How the reeling Detroit Red Wings plan to play to their strengths moving forward

Detroit Free Press

Helene St. James
| Detroit Free Press

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Though their record does not reflect it, the Detroit Red Wings sound assured they are doing the right things to scrape themselves off the mat.

They take a 3-9-2 record into a pair of games at Nashville, most recently losing 2-1 to the Panthers; the fifth time the Wings dropped a one-goal game.

“It’s definitely not the results we are looking for,” defenseman Jon Merrill said. “We have to find a way to win some of those games. When that happens once or twice, it is going to really build our confidence. We are definitely not satisfied, but I think we are going in the right direction. We are starting to play the right way. We just have to be more consistent with that effort and the results will follow.”

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Among the biggest issues for the Wings has been their power play.

At 9.3%, it ranks 30th in the NHL, having converted four times on 43 opportunities. The unit was without four regulars when Merrill, Robby Fabbri, Filip Zadina and Sam Gagner were sidelined two weeks after testing positive for COVID-19 in the opening week of the season. But even as those players have returned, the power play continues to be on life support.

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“We have to be more assertive and just simplify things a little bit,” Merrill said. “We have to get more pucks to the cage. I think we are doing a decent job of gaining entries at times, and we are just not getting pucks to the net. A good power play starts with chaos, it starts with shots at the net, and that loosens up the PK. We have to do a better job of that early in the power play, of getting shots on net and really creating that chaos.”

The Wings snapped an eight-game winless skid when they won Sunday against the Panthers, but weren’t able to build on that. They are without Tyler Bertuzzi and Luke Glendening, who are sidelined by upper-body injuries.

“What happens at times when you struggle to score is, you lose your focus on defense and you gain a greater focus on offense, and next thing you know you’re bad defensively and you’re still not scoring,” coach Jeff Blashill said. “That’s a recipe for disaster. We are not going to win games, 6-5, on a regular basis. We have to win games 2-1, 3-2.

“We have to make sure we continue to stick to the foundation that is going to make us successful, and that’s being really hard to play against. We have to stay with it. We can’t stray away from these principles.”

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While the Wings rank last in the league with a 1.93 goals-for average, their 3.29 goals-allowed average ranks 23rd.

“I think that our guys understand that our best chance to be successful is to be a hard team to play against,” Blashill said. “There are things that go into that. One is physicality. One is work and compete and one is defense. You end up getting chances because you’re on the right side of pucks and you are creating turnovers. I think our guys are gaining an understanding, which hopefully then builds to an identity of being a hard team to play against.

“We have done a pretty good job this year of refusing to lose our way and staying with it.”

Beyond scores, Blashill said the Wings rate how they have performed based on internal statistics. He declined to share what those are, but did say, “we look at chances for and against, that we do internally ourselves. How we do in front of each net-front is extremely important. Ultimately you want to give up as little as you can and try to have a great margin of chances-for than against.”


Jon Merrill: How Detroit Red Wings can get power play on track

Jon Merrill interview, Feb. 20, 2021

Helene St. James, Detroit Free Press

Contact Helene St. James at 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 AmazonBarnes & Noble and Triumph Books. Personalized copies available via her e-mail. 

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