Today we conclude Winging it in Motown’s series on projecting next season’s line up. With this final article I'm tackling the penalty kill. In keeping with the spirit of the series, this article is going to play ball with the previous articles on the top and bottom six forwards, the defense, and the power play. The players used herein will be the same as they are presented in the line ups of the previous article.
The penalty kill has been pretty middling over the past few years; the Wings ranked 14th this past season with an 81.6% success rate (tied with Babcock’s Maple Leafs) and were 18th the year before with 80.9%, mostly under the leadership of Drew Miller, Luke Glendening, Jonathan Ericsson, and Danny Dekeyser. Well, WiiM has scratched two of those guys off the roster (congrats DK and Ericsson, advance immediately to GO and collect two-hundred dollars.) Interestingly, Prashanth has mentioned previously about PKers being pretty interchangeable, so maybe benching two rocks on the PK isn’t such a big deal. At any rate, we have a new assistant coach in Doug Houda to head the PK. Before coming to Detroit he was an assistant with the Bruins, who, since the beginning of Houda's tenure in 2006, have had a reliably impressive penalty kill on what was, for the most part, a very good team. It's reason to be optimistic.
Penalty Kill Unit 1
Dylan Larkin-Darren Helm
Danny Dekeyser-Alexey Marchenko
Well, this is what we wanted. This penalty kill is coming out, all guns blazing. Helm and Dekeyser are seasoned PK vets, and Marchenko is a journeyman who is an excellent shut down defenseman. But who is that playing high left? Oh, it’s Dylan Larkin! Since the Red Wings nation has christened him The Man, well, then I say play him like The Man. We shall see if the age-old adage of young legs of young legs being capable of handling tons of minutes is true. There’s no way to know his limits until the Wings push him past them, so give it all you got, D-Boss!
An important aspect of this unit is pairing Larkin alongside the veteran Helm and the young Marchenko with Dekeyser to keep a balance of experience while teaching the younger guys the tricks of the trade. This runs counter-intuitive to what would be ideal for the rest of the line-up, in my opinion. At even strength and power play I say let the kids run wild, but on the penalty kill I do think erring conservatively is a wise move. Pair the teachers and students together so the future core can do the same thing for the next wave a younguns, hopefully when the Red Wings pastures are a little greener (or redder.)
Penalty Kill Unit 2
Andreas Athanasiou-Riley Sheahan
Niklas Kronwall-Jonathan Ericsson
Mike Babcock would often put players on the penalty kill to teach them defensive responsibility. Jeff Blashill would do well to take this approach with Athanasiou. AA would be playing along Sheahan, who should bring a calming element to Athanasiou’s shiftiness. Furthermore, combining Sheahan’s passing skills with Athanasiou’s speed and finishing touch. As for the defensemen, Kronwall has a boatload of experience. Many may question his role on the PK, given his decline the past two years. However, Kronwall still possesses a first-rate hockey mind, and the PK’s reliance on positioning and awareness makes me more confident of his skills here than on the power play. And Ericsson is terrifying, but we’ve got him and this is where we’re at and with Sproul on the roster I think Ericsson spreads out the minutes well.
If any of the PK forwards end up in the box, Abdelkader is their replacement; he has handled the PK well in the past. If a defensemen gets put in time-out, roll out Green and hope for the best. It's not a perfect solution, but given the circumstances it will have to do. That may be a running theme with the second defenseman on the second unit; making lemonade out of lemons.
The writers in this series have been purposefully optimistic about these line-up choices, but even so we’ve had a lot of differing minds on the subject, so it’s gone in a lot of directions. If I had written every article then the lineup would appear a little different, and I’m sure the same can be said of any of the other writers, or any of the readers. Let us know your thoughts in the comments.