The Red Wings took to the ice for practice today in preparation for this weekend's home-and-home series against the Ottawa Senators with some new lines to try out, some problems to fix, and with a fun journey to clarity on how the goalie situation is going to split out.
Here's what the diggers are reporting from practice as far as the line combinations
|Dylan Larkin||Henrik Zetterberg||Justin Abdelkader|
|Tomas Tatar||Riley Sheahan||Gustav Nyquist|
|Teemu Pulkkinen||Darren Helm||Tomas Jurco|
|Drew Miller||Luke Glendening||Landon Ferraro/Joakim Andersson|
|Niklas Kronwall||Jonathan Ericsson|
|Danny DeKeyser||Alexey Marchenko|
|Jakub Kindl||Brendan Smith|
Analysis - Forwards
I'm interested to see Larkin move back to first line wing, since it seemed like he was going a pretty good job of managing his own line, but this may be a consideration to make the Zetterberg & Abdeklader pairing stronger, since they haven't looked as good with Larkin gone (especially Abdelkader, who has had trouble handling the puck lately).
With Larkin off 2C duties, I suppose somebody has to fill in. Riley Sheahan will get a chance to play with two skilled wingers again as he'll be the pivot between Tatar and Nyquist. This line may not be as good as the Tatar-Larkin-Pulkkinen line from the last few games, but there's a bunch of skill. My biggest question is if Sheahan can find his touch again after a frustrating start that's seen him unable to complete passes and losing more board battles than usual.
Darren Helm going back to center gives Balshill the flexibility to try a combination of finesse, speed, and force on a third line that's built to move the puck toward the net. Helm hasn't played center in a while, so it will be interesting to see how long it takes to get back to comfortable in that spot, but Jurco being hammered into a defensive role last year should help with that situation while Pulkkinen's good breakout sense ought to get them up the ice quickly.
The fourth line is what it is again. Luke Glendening is back in his natural spot after a couple brutally awful games playing the third line winger position. Right now we're not sure whether Andersson or Ferraro will be sitting, but based on how Andersson has looked in the last couple games, I wouldn't be surprised to see Ferraro back in the lounge. It doesn't particularly matter much, but in my opinion, I think Andersson has looked quite good as the fourth line center in Glendening's absence and I'm not entirely sure I want Glendening to just be handed that position back to him.
Overall, the two players the most in my doghouse right now are Sheahan and Glendening (though it doesn't appear Jeff Blashill agrees with me). We'll get to see which of those two were driving that consideration, since they've been on the same line recently. Personally, I might like to see what it would be like Sheahan made a winger on the 2nd line to Larkin while Nyquist stays with Hank & Abdelkader.
Analysis - Defense
I'm still a bit baffled that Blashill seemed to get the need to break up Ericsson and Kronwall in a play that was working pretty well for almost a full period against Calgary and he's abandoned that thought since Mike Green's injury. I can't tell you a combination of the three pairs worth of these healthy defensemen that I'm truly comfortable with, but I can tell you with more certainty that I am not comfortable with this setup as it is.
I think Alexey Marchenko was the Wings' best defenseman in Tuesday's loss to Carolina and I might treat him as such were I in charge, giving him the opportunity to play to Kronwall's right. Danny DeKeyser should be able to handle being partnered with either Ericsson or Smith as the net-front guys to his puck-mover while Kindl gets the puck up ice and gets saved for power play use on the third pair with whatever joker he gets.
One thing is clear, Blashill thinks Kronwall and DeKeyser are his 1-2 defensemen, so he needs each anchoring a pair for his relatively even defensive use.
Filed straight into the "No Shit, Sherlock" folder, here's one of the focuses from practice today:
The #RedWings are working on the power play with a heavy dose of zone entry concentration. It's been a concern for coaching staff lately.— The Wheel Deal (@Bill_Roose) October 29, 2015
I don't have the numbers in front of me, but the eyeball test indicates that the Red Wings trying to enter the zone with a man advantage looks like a group of drunken pigs taking turns running headlong into an electrified fence. I don't know whether to give the organization credit for figuring out that's a problem or not, but at least I can be happy to know they're working on it.
Specifically, the Wings have relied less on the center ice drop pass to a streaking defenseman thing that many people didn't like, but it also means that they're making fewer speedy cuts into the zone. What happens is that the opposition is stacking all four of their PKers between their own blue line and the center red stripe and are able to effectively funnel the entry along the boards. The Wings are overloading to that side to get the man advantage, but the side boards severely bottleneck how helpful that overload can be.
Essentially, Detroit is telegraphing their heavy side too early and can rarely get possession below the half-wall as a result. The entry gets bogged down at the high boards and they have trouble breaking out from there because passing off those boards to the middle at your opponent's blueline is a very good way to give up shorthanded breakaways. None of the diggers have indicated what specifically they're doing while working on zone entries (and we weren't invited to watch practice), but I hope it has to do with more mid-level dump ins and more center-ice overloads which use the boards as an outlet rather than the main avenue of entry.
The point of the power play continues to be to push the man advantage to the middle of the ice, but you have to get setup in the zone before you can do that.
The Goalie Confusion
Mrazek in the net usually occupied by next game's starter, Friday vs. Senators. If that's the case, then Howard would start Saturday in OTT.— Ansar Khan (@AnsarKhanMLive) October 29, 2015
Curveball time. Mrazek, Howard have swapped nets. Both have shared the west net, which usually signifies the starter for the upcoming game.— The Wheel Deal (@Bill_Roose) October 29, 2015
Blashill says Howard will start in net vs. Ottawa Friday— Ted Kulfan (@tkulfan) October 29, 2015
This was a fun hour of speculation on what it all meant, since Friday would have been the third consecutive start for Mrazek were he to actually been making it. In the end, it doesn't mean anything. One goalie was going to play Friday and the other on Saturday. Both have been good this year.
(To clarify, I used three different sources here for fun, but all of this information was shared by all of the diggers right around the same time, so credit any of them as you see fit for reporting it)