By: Will Burchfield
With the Red Wings’ dreadful power play in dire need of a boost, Jeff Blashill is turning to Darren Helm.
The speedy winger skated on the team’s second power play unit at Tuesday’s practice, alongside Tomas Tatar, Frans Nielsen, Justin Abdelkader and Niklas Kronwall.
“We’ve used lots of different guys and we haven’t got results,” Blashill said. “One of the things that I’ve looked at is certainly using Helm. The reason for that is you have to get pucks to the net and you have to retrieve them. We haven’t done a good enough job retrieving them and he’s somebody that can really do a good job retrieving them.”
Helm occupied a steady role on the Red Wings’ power play during the 2014-15 season, when the man-advantage unit finished second in the league with a success rate of 23.5 percent. He helped track down shots and keep possession.
“He was somebody that was on it regularly for that specific purpose. He’s great at getting back on pucks,” Blashill said.
Helm posted career highs in goals (15) and points (33) that year, a good portion of which came on the power play.
Two forwards who didn’t receive power play time at Tuesday’s practice were Andreas Athanasiou and Dylan Larkin. That was so Blashill could give them a look on the penalty kill.
“I think when Double-A’s skating, he’s a great penalty killer the way we want to kill. We want to get up the ice and cause pressure, we want to squeeze the sides with good skating. So when he’s moving his feet, he’s a really good penalty killer and he’s a threat every time he’s out there to score, which ultimately puts the power play on their heels,” said Blashill.
“In theory, Larks would be the same thing. But you practice power play and penalty kill at the same time so he’s had no chance to practice penalty kill. So (we took) him off it the last couple days and let him practice the penalty kill, because he’d have that same ability I believe.”
In Blashill’s mind, the Wings’ problems on the power play can be traced back to a lack of confidence. Detroit ranks last in the league with a success rate of 11.1 percent.
“I think number one, it’s confidence, and you have to earn your confidence for sure. But I think just like a player, when you’re really confident things are going well. When you’re not confident sometimes it makes it a lot harder. We’ve made a lot of unforced errors as a unit, which, to me, speaks to just a lack of confidence. So hopefully we get a refresher here from the All-Star break,” Blashill said.
The Red Wings’ penalty kill ranks 19th in the league with a success rate of 80.7 percent. Nielsen, who plays on the penalty kill and the power play, knows both units are critical to sustained success.
“Special teams wins you a lot of games in this league,” he said. “I think the PK’s been pretty good for the most part, but the power play has to step up.”
Perhaps a few new faces will help both causes.