DETROIT – It didn’t take long for Drew Miller’s contributions to get noticed in the Red Wings’ Western Conference semifinal series against the Chicago Blackhawks.
Since returning from a broken hand last weekend, the Wings’ veteran forward has made a big impact, particularly on the penalty kill, where he has logged 8-minutes of shorthanded time and blocked a team-best five shots in the last two games.
“I don’t think people realize how much he means to this team,” defenseman Niklas Kronwall said following the team’s practice Tuesday. “He maybe one of those guys who doesn’t get the credit that he deserves, but I would put him up there as one of the best PKers in the league.”
The Blackhawks are clearly discouraged with the lack of scoring from their power play, which is 0-for-8 since forward Marian Hossa scored on Chicago’s first opportunity in Game 1. Veterans like Miller will be counted on to keep the Blackhawks’ power play in check throughout the rest of this series, which resumes Thursday when the Red Wings take their 2-1 series lead into Game 4 at Joe Louis Arena.
“We need the power play to get some goals, that’s for sure, to help get this series in our advantage,” Hossa said. “I felt like the first power play we were moving the puck well, we were finding ways to get a couple good shots, then on other few it was tough to get in, but when we did get in we had some good looks. We have to find a way to put the puck in the net.”
Since returning in Game 2 of this series, Miller has spent 1/3 of his total ice-time killing penalties for the Red Wings. Of his shorthanded time, two-minutes plus came during a Brendan Smith holding minor in the opening minute of the second period in Game 3. It was a tremendous display of equanimity, not only by Miller, but the other three – Patrick Eaves, Jonathan Ericsson and Kronwall – who were stuck on the ice for the entire situation.
“Not all of it was penalty kill, but a lot of it, I mean, I was out there the full two-minutes, so yeah, it’s quite a long shift,” said Miller, who also scored the game-winning goal in Game 3. “The guys stepped up and got through it, (but) that kind of stuff happens.”
That particular penalty kill in a scoreless game was credited by many as the turning point in Game 3, allowing the Red Wings to build some momentum.
“I think we’re playing our systems strong, working as a group of four, then you have Howie in net making the big saves for us. I think that’s the basis of our penalty kill, you just have to work together and when you do that the system will work.”
The last time the Red Wings allowed a power play goal with Miller on the ice was April 11 against San Jose. Since then, Detroit has killed 15 consecutive power plays with him.
“He’s just another one of the guys out there going that goes to work for us,” goalie Jimmy Howard said. “He’s an extremely hard worker and he’s always in the lane blocking shots from the point, getting in the way so they have to shoot wide, so he’s a key for us.”
At 6-foot-2, Miller is tall and ranging. He uses that body type, and his great defensive instincts, to cause problems for opposing power play units.
“He’s not a big guy, but somehow he gets by you,” Kronwall said. “He’s always in the lane. He always wants to get hit by the puck. He makes sure that you can’t get it through.”
Like others who play on special teams, Miller takes tremendous pride in being a successful penalty-killer.
“I definitely take pride in it and our guys on the power play do the same,” he said. “If they’re not scoring they have to find a way to be better and if we’re not doing the penalty kill we’re always trying to find a way to be better too.”
Follow Bill Roose on Twitter | @Bill_Roose
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