With the season a week away and two scrimmages left to simulate exhibition games, the Detroit Red Wings' focus on special teams is intensifying.
Even with the Red Wings often putting their best players on one power play unit last season, their conversion rate, 14.9%, ranked 29th out of 31 teams.
Now a new season beckons — the opener is Jan. 14 against the Carolina Hurricanes —and with an influx of new players — thanks to general manager Steve Yzerman — the Wings look like they can field two functional power play units.
“Our power play hasn’t been good enough nor has any player been productive enough on the power play,” coach Jeff Blashill said Thursday. “I want to create two units and I hope they’re super competitive and I hope they both play great.”
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While five-on-five play was the focus of the first scrimmage, special teams are on the menu for Friday’s and Sunday’s scrimmages. One unit features Dylan Larkin and Anthony Mantha on the flanks, Tyler Bertuzzi in the bumper role, Bobby Ryan in front of the net and Danny DeKeyser on the point. The other has Filip Zadina and Sam Gagner on the flanks, Robby Fabbri in front of the net and Filip Hronek and Jon Merrill on the points.
Both units have at least one player (Ryan, Gagner, Hronek) who shoots right, a balance that should allow for multiple looks, once it's set up.
“We’ve been hoping for righties so we could have a righty-lefty, especially between the net-front and the bumper,” Blashill said. “That means that that is a dangerous play, when you have a lefty-righty in those situations. That makes your low plays that much more dangerous, which can open up some of your high plays as well. So having a righty on each unit does give us a balance, and we’re excited about those opportunities.
“It still comes down to scoring those dirty goals around the net. It still comes down to managing the puck. But it gives us a chance to be more successful.”
Merrill said he has played a bit of power play before, and sounded excited about the opportunity. Earlier in the week, Dennis Cholowski got some looks on the unit.
In order to have one unit on each scrimmage squad, lines will have to be tweaked, since Ryan has been with Zadina and Fabbri. It’s about compressing as much preparation into a two-week training camp that will segue directly into a 56-game schedule without the buffer of exhibition games.
“We’re trying to have that balance of keeping people together to create chemistry while also figuring out which guys are the best guys to be in what spots,” Blashill said. “We have to figure out who is going to be in our lineup and then who are the best guys to run those units.”
New look for Brome
With Darren Helm (undisclosed) unavailable, Swedish free agent signee Mathias Brome started Thursday’s practice in on a line with Luke Glendening and Adam Erne and also took some reps with Vladislav Namestnikov and Glendening.
“Brome is a guy who can make some plays and we wanted to see how he would play off Namestnikov, and Glennie provides a lot of the engine, a lot of the forecheck in that group,” Blashill said. “If you’re on that line, you’ll ultimately be in situations where you are playing against other teams’ really good players, so we have to see defensively can Brome handle that.”
What 'unfit' means
Evgeny Svechnikov, who appeared to injure his right arm in Tuesday’s scrimmage, did not practice. Blashill described Svechnikov as “unfit” to do so, which apparently is what the NHL and NHL Players Association want as a blanket response to any illness or injury. Pressed for whether “unfit” could mean anything from a short-term layoff to see-you-next-season, Blashill replied, “my direction is to say that a player is unfit to play and that he’s day-to-day.”
Contact Helene St. James at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @helenestjames. Read more on the Detroit Red Wings and sign up for our Red Wings newsletter. Her book, The Big 50: The Detroit Red Wings is available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Triumph Books. Personalized copies available via her e-mail.
This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Why Detroit Red Wings think they'll have 2 effective power play units