Special teams, goaltending help Detroit Red Wings thrive as they learn to play right way

Detroit Free Press

A common theme in hockey is that the team that has the better goaltending and special teams usually comes out on top.

The Detroit Red Wings take a three-game winning streak up against the Arizona Coyotes on Friday at Little Caesars Arena on the strength of succeeding in both areas in the first game of a five-game homestand. Ville Husso made multiple key saves among 26 total Wednesday against the Nashville Predators, and special teams came through with a power play goal and killing off a two-man disadvantage that lasted 1:37 to secure a 3-0 victory.

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Having special teams they can rely on — especially the power play — is part of the growth the Wings are enjoying this season.

“We had a good start last year, and I remember we just couldn’t get anything going on our special teams,” Dylan Larkin said after the Predators game. “Our special teams let us down a lot. Now our special teams is winning us games. It’s different players that are in our lineup now. I just think we’re rolling right now, we’re taking care of the puck on the power play and on the penalty kill, things are going well. We’re blocking shots or getting sticks in lanes or getting big saves.”

Larkin ranks second on the team with eight power play points, two behind leader Dominik Kubalik. Adding veteran David Perron in the offseason has been a big part of the transformation — he makes such good decisions with the puck, hustles on retrievals and is dangerous making passes and unleashing his one-timer.

Larkin was part of Wednesday’s 5-on-3 kill, along with defensemen Filip Hronek (who later scored the power play goal) and Olli Määttä — who were called to duty because the two skaters the Wings were without were their top defense/penalty killing duo, Moritz Seider and Ben Chiarot.

The Wings’ power play is clicking at 21.7% and the penalty kill at 80.7%. At the end of last year, they were at 16.3% and 73.8%, respectively. Of the Wings’ 62 goals, 17 have come on man advantages (including pulling the goalie for an extra attacker), five have been empty-netters, two shorthanded, and one four-on-four, with the rest (37) coming at during five-on-five play.

“Our five-on-five play has been very sporadic this year,” coach Derek Lalonde said. “You need a goaltender and your special teams to bail you out. That’s not a recipe for sustained success, but we’ve worked really hard on our special teams, we’ve spent a lot of time on it. Still looking to be a better, more consistent five-on-five.”

Lalonde added that the Wings don’t want to put themselves in situations where they need their goaltender to bail them out. There’s no doubt they still have a long way to go towards becoming an elite team, but the fact is, the Wings are 10-5-4 and third in the Atlantic Division. Larkin smiled when asked how much stock he puts into the Wings being in a playoff spot at U.S. Thanksgiving (Canadian Thanksgiving is in October) and referenced the team’s former general manager.

“Ken Holland used to talk about that all the time,” Larkin said. “I think it’s still early. We put ourselves in a great position, we’ve gotten some great team wins.

“I’m a big believer that when you’re in a playoff spot at Easter, that it means something, and that’s what matters. We have to be right there. I said it from Day 1, just keep us in there, stay in it, and see what happens. We are finding ways to win and when things aren’t going our way, it’s not snowballing, and it’s a huge improvement from the last few years.”

Contact Helene St. James at hstjames@freepress.com. Follow her on Twitter @helenestjames.

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Her latest book, “On the Clock: Behind the Scenes with the Detroit Red Wings at the NHL Draft,” is available from  Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Triumph Books. Personalized copies available via her e-mail.

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