Detroit — The term “small sample size” is popular around the Red Wings these days, especially coach Jeff Blashill, as the team hasn’t even reached the one-week point in its schedule.
Tuesday’s game against Columbus is only the Wings’ third one this season.
But, sure, it’s easy to make bold proclamations and have strong opinions, like the power play is much improved.
After finishing 30th (out of 31 teams) last season, with a paltry 11.4% success rate, there’s a whole lot of room to improve.
With the addition of assistant coach Alex Tanguay, more offensive depth, and some simple career growth, the Wings look sharper on the man advantage, having scored goals in each of the first two games and clipping along at a 28.6% success rate.
Small sample size but quite good so far.
“They have an understanding of what Alex wants them to do, which is pretty simple,” Blashill said. “Quick puck movement, take what’s given, be ready to attack.”
Special teams are a big component of success in the NHL. If a team takes advantage of the power play, and conversely is effective at killing penalties, it’s likely they will be a winning hockey team.
Blashill is pleased with the way the power play has looked, but he was quick to add it’s a long season and there’s room to grow.
“We’ve got to keep getting better at it,” Blashill said. “It’s going to be a big piece of success. I gave our guys a stat before the year, that in the last five years if a team won the specialty teams battle, 76% of the time you’re going to win the hockey game. That’s a huge percentage.
“So let’s find ways to make sure we win the specialty teams battle.”
Generally speaking, teams want to be as close to the 20% success rate as possible, and the Wings are no different
“You want to be right at 20%,” forward Dylan Larkin said. “Alex talks about that a lot, not too much, but he knows that’s our goal. We need to build our power play into that momentum.”
Even if they can’t cash in on a power play, the Wings can benefit from good two-minute execution.
“If we don’t score, it’s momentum for the next shift and the next power play,” Larkin said. “Then when we get a power play late in the game, if it’s a tie game or a one-goal game, that’s when we can capitalize.
“That’s what good power-play units do, and what good teams do.”
The additions of Nick Leddy, Moritz Seider, Lucas Raymond and Pius Suter coupled with the return of Larkin and Tyler Bertuzzi from injury have given Blashill more players who can fill roles on the power play and help the unit thrive.
Sam Gagner and Suter are two players who aren’t on the power play currently but probably will at some juncture, and that just shows the depth the Wings possess.
“They’re both guys who are going to spend time on our power play,” Blashill said. “What depth can do is create competitiveness. Competitiveness matters. It’s making sure you know that you can’t take your spot for granted.
“Sutes will definitely spend time on the power play and Gags will as well. In certain games we might say we’re going with different guys, until somebody really separates themselves that they’re going to be a great power-play player.
“That’s ultimately what we’re looking for, is to have as many great power-play players as we can get.”
Another sign of the depth of the Wings have is on defense.
Veterans Troy Stecher and Jordan Oesterle have yet to get into the lineup, being the two odd men out.
Both have been, and are generally considered to be, NHL-quality defensemen who could jump right into any team’s lineup.
Having that kind of internal competition is a good problem for Blashill to have.
“If I put either one of them in the game, I’d feel totally confident they could go in and help us win,” Blashill said. “There’s zero doubt about that. We’ll use our depth throughout the year. I’m going to get them in at some point.
“Both have been good in practice. (But) they have six guys ahead of them.”