DETROIT – On paper, the Red Wings’ power play seems ripe for a comeback.
The special teams unit has struggled the last two seasons – there was some improvement last year – though captain Henrik Zetterberg sees brighter days ahead.
Zetterberg’s optimism stems from offseason acquisitions of forward Daniel Alfredsson and center Stephen Weiss. Both are expected to be big contributors to the power play with the right-handed shooting Alfredsson positioned on the right point of the first unit opposite defenseman Niklas Kronwall.
Detroit coach Mike Babcock will finally get a first-look at the units, which he hopes to deploy in the regular season, when the Red Wings host the Toronto Maple Leafs at Joe Louis Arena tonight.
“We haven’t played a game yet together. So tonight will be the first game with Alf and Kronner behind us, so I think we need a lot of practice on it,” Zetterberg said. “Power play wasn’t our best spot last year and we really have to improve on it, but you have to practice. If you don’t practice it’s tough to win games.”
Early preseason injuries to Alfredsson (groin) and Johan Franzen (hip flexor) prevented the power play from gaining steam in the exhibition games. But the Wings’ conventional formation should get ice time against the Leafs tonight.
The top unit will have Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk on the flanks with Justin Abdelkader at the net-front. The second unit will use Weiss and Johan Franzen on the outside with Daniel Cleary in front of the crease and Jakub Kindl and Mikael Samuelsson on the point.
Adding hard-shooting right-handers like Alfredsson and Samuelsson to the point is intriguing with a potential to create increased offense.
“I think it’s going to help big time,” Kronwall said. “Now we have guys back there that can shoot the puck. For us on top we have to make sure that the puck gets through to the net. We’ve spent too much time passing it around and not really getting the pucks to the net. We know we have guys in front of the net who are doing great jobs, but we have to make sure the puck gets there.”
Having a right-handed shot to the back-end spots is a luxury that regularly eluded the Wings, who primarily used two lefties on the point, last season. Now that they have right-handers available for point duty, it should make life easier for lefties Kronwall and Kindl.
“Obviously when the puck is coming from the other side it’s hard for a lefty to shoot a one-timer,” Kronwall said. “But there are other options where you can flip-flop and go on one side or the other side. Now you can have a one-timer from a different position, so it gives us another option.”
Last season the Wings’ power play was No. 15 in the league, finishing at 18.4 percent (34-of-185). They were 0-for-36 through the first 10 road games in 2013. Statistically, the Wings were worse in 2011-12. However, in the last 14 seasons, the Wings have annually produced one of the top power plays in the league, finishing in the top five nine times since 1999-2000. In that time, no other NHL team has more than six top-five finishes.
Babcock hopes Alfredsson and Samuelsson can be the power play the high-powered weaponry that has been missing from the right point.
“We want to score some goals and they have that ability,” Babcock said. “We didn’t think we had a bomb from the point at all last year. (Damien) Brunner played on it. He wasn’t a stationary shooter, if that makes any sense. Alfredsson and Samuelsson both are. We planned on playing Sammy there last year and he never played so we’ll see what happens.”
Alfredsson is no stranger to playing the point on the power play, having played opposite of Jason Spezza or Kyle Turris in recent seasons.
“I feel comfortable there,” said Alfredsson, who has 131 career power-play goals. “For me, I like to shoot the one-timers. You get a lot more chances that way. I think the zones are a little bit bigger now when they moved the blue lines, as a pointman it gives you room there. You have more time in space to create things, but I think with me being a right-handed shot with the group that they have me with should work well.”
What the Wings don’t want is to become too predictable.
“You have to take what’s there,” Samuelsson said. “Every night is different. If the one-timer is there though, you have to take it. But if it’s not there you have to throw something else at them. … It’s like any sport, you have to throw different things at them.”
Follow Bill Roose on Twitter | @Bill_Roose
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