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Detroit Red Wings Season Preview 2014: Special Teams

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Rick Osentoski-US PRESSWIRE

Special Teams

About 20% of the game nowadays is played on special teams wile approximately 1/4th of the goals happen there. Being good when the manpower isn't even won't make all the difference, but it can make a pretty damn big one. Let's take a look at the Wings' special teams.

The Baseline

Last season, there were 14 teams who had an overall positive special teams goal differential (PPG+SHG-PPGA-SHGA). There were three teams who were exactly even, and then there were 13 who were negative. The bad news is that Detroit was one of the negative teams. The good news is that their -2 was tied for tops among those bottom 13 clubs (woo!). The Wings accomplished this by being 9th in power play differential (+45), and 24th in PK differential (-47).

It's weird to consider that the power play might have been the stronger point for the Wings, since traditional standards had their PP% ranked 18th while their PK rate was 12th. However, this just goes to show what using the traditional percents leaves out in context. Detroit's good penalty kill was a godsend because they were shorthanded more times than all but three clubs. Detroit's bad power play hurt them because they were given the 7th most opportunities in the league. Overall, only Philadelphia, Ottawa, and the Kings saw more heavily-officiated games than the Wings.

If we break it down to goals scored/allowed per 60 minutes of time, we get a 6.46 goals per 60 minutes of power play time (16th in the league) and a PPGA/60 rate of 6.15 (11th).

If the rates are going to hold up, Detroit would do very well for themselves to get better at both taking advantage of and overcoming penalties. Simple as that.

The Systems

This one is going to be tough to call for a little bit because the Wings replaced both of their assistant coaches in this last offseason and the special teams units are generally run by those guys. We can imagine that they'll be pretty similar though.

Power Play: Detroit likes having at least one right-shooting player to command the point from up top and will go to a forward there to get that if need be. They tend to gain entry by posting players along both boards at the blue line and having a defenseman carry to center before dropping it to a streaking forward (usually Pavel Datsyuk). They'll use that to overload one side with three players to see if they can get in around the strong-side defenseman to turn the corner on the net. Once set up, the new system we've seen in preseason so far has de-emphasized having a guy trying to screen directly in front of the goalie and will often release him to the side of the net to draw defenders in and away from a guy coming into the slot or just low enough so that the defensemen at the top of the zone can get better shooting lanes for that slot guy to take over as the net-front man. They've played far less umbrella in the preseason than they did last year and have cycled the puck well around the middle of the ice.

Penalty Kill: The Wings generally play the same box/diamond that every team plays, depending on whether their opponent is set up in the umbrella. The forwards don't attack the points too heavily, instead relying on staying in good lanes to prevent high-quality chances. They do try to keep a constant light-to-medium pressure on the puck, especially when the opposition finds itself getting too close to opportunistic choke-points like the low corner and just above the half wall. The defensemen post themselves low and usually have one guy covering the net-front while the other watches the strong side. They'll occasionally both cheat to the same side if they have a forward covering net-front for them and will pursue the puck up the boards where they get a chance. The system is simple and it's designed for easy clearing up ice rather than aggressive counterattacking.

So far in the preseason, it does look like  the PK has been slightly more-aggressive, but it's hard to say whether that's a factor of it just being preseason hockey or if it's the new system taking hold.

Expectations

I've been pretty rosy in these posts so far based solely on the fact that I expect the Wings to consistently have a better lineup than they did last year through staying healthier. I may as well be consistent and talk about how this will finally be the year that a power play stacked with talent will actually live up to its billing. I'm actually pretty happy with how the PK worked last year other than the worry that they simply had to work too much I'm not sure that we've got the talent setup to have an ideal Bowman Index special teams rating (top ten in both PK and PP), but I expect a positive special teams goal differential this season.