How special teams’ resurgence is keying Red Wings’ early success

Detroit News

Detroit — Derek Lalonde wasn’t taking any credit for Sunday’s victory over Anaheim.

Seated on the podium after the convincing 5-1 win, the Red Wings’ head coach said this victory came by Lalonde’s assistants, Bob Boughner (penalty kill, defense), and Alex Tanguay and Jay Varady (power play, forwards).

“We call this in the profession an assistant coaches win because of the special teams,” Lalonde said. “They were dynamite. Huge credit to what we’re trying to do in special teams. It was a real good night.”

The fact the Red Wings’ special teams are actually playing well enough to get credit for victories these days shows the improvement through five games there’s been with this team.

When the Wings looked at the NHL statistics on Monday, they were one of three teams who were perfect on the penalty kill, a perfect 17-for-17, ranked second in the league, while ranking an admirable 15th on the power play (23.8%).

Those were lofty statistics when you consider the last three seasons, and where the Wings stood.

Last season, the Wings ranked 32nd out of 32 teams on the penalty kill (73.8%), while finishing 26th on the power play (16.3%).

The year before, 2020-21, during the COVID-shortened 56-game season, the power play was a lowly 30th of 31 teams (Seattle hadn’t yet entered the NHL) at 11.4%, while the penalty kill was 22nd at 78.7%.

And during that forgettable 2019-20 season, when the Wings had the worst record in the NHL before the pandemic cut the season about a month short, the Wings finished 29th on the power play (14.9%) and 31st on the penalty kill (74.3).

The special teams were an obvious area Lalonde wanted to improve, in a five-game segment, they look significantly better.

Here’s a look at each one:

Penalty kill

Going from last in the NHL to being perfect through five games is quite the statistical jump.

The Wings drew inspiration Sunday after killing Anaheim’s two-man, 1-minute 41-second advantage, maintaining a 2-1 lead at the time and turning the momentum squarely in the Wings’ direction.

“I had goosebumps and I’m on the bench; I can’t imagine what it did for our players,” Lalonde said. “Huge, huge momentum. The guys were fired up because of that kill. My message was you get an effort like that, we don’t waste this, and let’s make sure we win that second (period) and try to finish this game off.”

Lalonde has wanted the Wings to play more aggressively on the penalty kill. There needs to be constant motion, movement, and forcing offensive players into turnovers and unwanted quick decisions.

So far, the Wings are accomplishing it.

“The pressure routes have been excellent, but now we’re starting to get some detail within our pressure, some stick detail and good habits,” Lalonde said. “It’s been good. Like anything else, this is such a scouted, coached-type league, we’ll run into some power plays that may expose it in certain areas but right now it’s playing well, playing confident.

“We talk about playing fast on the penalty kill, and when you’re confident in it, you’re playing fast and that’s what they’re doing.”

Power play

New additions David Perron and Dominik Kubalik are two players who’ve sparked the unit, which looks more able to score and put some fear into opponents, unlike previous seasons.

“I like the simplicity of it,” Lalonde said. “Even the bumper, (Dylan Larkin) did a good job getting them out of trouble at any time.,and Alex Tanguay, Jay Varady, they’ve worked really hard with the power play. Those adjustments you saw, in personnel, were all them (Tanguay, Varady). We did a good job of putting guys in places to succeed, and tonight it cashed in.”

Perron was mentioned among the best power-play players around while in St. Louis. Now with the Wings, Lalonde has noticed areas which make Perron so effective with the man advantage.

“His poise and ability to get us out of trouble on the power play is something I didn’t anticipate,” Lalonde said. “He’s really good on that (left) half-wall offensively, good on that half-wall in getting us out of trouble where now we’re set up again.

“He’s been excellent.”

The Wings are passing the puck quickly and recognizing good shots and taking those shots.

“The overall mindset is whoever gets it (puck), no hesitation without thinking, just give to somebody else who is in a better position and just put it in the net,” Kubalik said. “It’s working and we’re happy for that.”

Devils at Red Wings

▶ Faceoff: 7 p.m. Tuesday, Little Caesars Arena, Detroit

▶ TV/radio: BSD/97.1 FM

▶ Outlook: The Devils (3-2-0) won three straight games heading into Monday’s game against Washington. … The Wings defeated New Jersey, 5-2, the opening weekend of the season. … LW Jesper Bratt (eight assists) and C Nico Hischier (two goals, four assists) have sparked the Devils early on.

Twitter: @tkulfan

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