DETROIT – Through two games of their Western Conference quarterfinal series with Nashville, the Wings have kept the league’s best power play during the regular season quiet.
The Predators are 0-for-12 with the man advantage, after scoring just under 22-percent of the time on the power play during the regular season.
“So far, so good on the PK,” Jonathan Ericsson said after practice Saturday at Joe Louis Arena. “We have a long ways to go. We just have to keep working hard.”
“It’s been key for us, especially this time of the year when they’re calling a lot of penalties and calling things tight,” Brad Stuart said. “Special teams are very important. (Jimmy) Howard has made some big saves for us and we’ve been able to clean up the first. It’s been a big part of the series for us.”
The Wings’ success on the penalty kill carried over from the regular season. They went the final games of the seven regular without allowing a power play goal.
They have not given up a power play goal the last 37 chances.
“I have no idea how many in a row it’s been,” Ericsson said. “Last two games there have been a bit too many penalties we’ve taken. We don’t really want that. I think we were the two least penalized teams and we’ve had a lot of penalties. I don’t know why it is like that.”
“We’ve just done a great job taking away passing lanes and blocking shots and just working hard out there,” Howard said. “I really think sacrificing the body and blocking shots have been key. Guys are putting their body out there and it’s not easy to step in front of Shea Weber’s shot but guys are doing it.”
Nashville has gotten off 14 shots on goal in those 12 man advantage chances.
“We don’t’ want to reinvent the wheel when you’re getting chances,” Nashville coach Barry Trotz said. “You might when you’re not. I can’t say that we’re not getting chances.”
A key to the penalty kill has been getting Ericsson back on the blue line. He was challenged by the coaching staff this offseason to become a bigger factor on that unit.
“That was one of my goals before the season was to take a step on the penalty kill and become a bigger factor for the team,” Ericsson said. “That’s how I wanted to contribute. I think I’ve gotten better throughout the year on the penalty kill, but you’re always working as a one unit out there. Everyone has to work together. It’s not one player or two.”
The last time the Wings gave up a power play goal was March 24 on home ice to Carolina. The Hurricanes went 2-for-2 that night with the man advantage.
“You definitely want to stay out of the box, it kind of screws up your rotation with the forward lines, kind of kills your rhythm a little bit, so you want to try to stay out of the box,” Nicklas Lidstrom said. “We know they have a good power play, they showed that in the regular season.”
The Wings ended the regular season with just the 18th ranked penalty kill in the league at just under 82-percent.
“I think we’re playing a little differently than we were at the beginning of the year,” Ericsson said. “We’re playing more aggressively in the defensive zone. It’s so important when someone goes hard that everyone goes at the same time. Right now we’re working real good as a unit. It’s not like one guy just doing the job.”
Despite killing off all 12 of the Predators’ power play chances, Wings coach Mike Babcock didn’t like how the penalty kill looked in Game 2 and vowed some changes for Game 3.
“We lost some 50-50 battles and didn’t get clears and they had more zone time,” Babcock said. “We blocked a lot of shots (Friday) night, which we had to because we didn’t have as much pressure. We need more pressure and therefore we won’t have to do that stuff.
“But obviously, (the penalty kills) has been a positive in two games,” Babcock added. “The negative side of it is we’re wearing people out penalty killing and we’ve taken way too many penalties. We have to be more disciplined.”
Heading into Saturday, the Wings are one of eight teams to have not allowed a power play goal this postseason.
“I know once I start talking about it it’s going to happen,” Stuart said when asked about the penalty kill streak the team is on. “We don’t focus on that. It’s one power play at a time. We’re going to come in situations where we need a big kill and that’s our focus, tackling the task at hand and not even worry about what’s happened in the past.”