Detroit Red Wings: Homer, Sweet Homer

DETROIT, MI - JANUARY 22: Tomas Holmstrom #96 of the Detroit Red Wings sits next to Executive Vice President & General Manager Ken Holland as he announces his retirement before the NHL home opening game against the Dallas Stars at Joe Louis Arena on January 22, 2013 in Detroit, Michigan. Dallas won 2-1 (Photo by Dave Reginek/NHLI via Getty Images)

DETROIT, MI – JANUARY 22: Tomas Holmstrom #96 of the Detroit Red Wings sits next to Executive Vice President & General Manager Ken Holland as he announces his retirement before the NHL home opening game against the Dallas Stars at Joe Louis Arena on January 22, 2013 in Detroit, Michigan. Dallas won 2-1 (Photo by Dave Reginek/NHLI via Getty Images)

By Rhys Richards (@RREsq)

Recently, career Red Wing and power play specialist Tomas Holmstrom hung up his skates after fifteen seasons with the team that drafted him 257th overall in the 10th round of the 1994 NHL Entry Draft.

Holmstrom recorded 243 goals and 287 assists in 1,026 regular season games in the winged wheel. He added 46 goals and 51 assists in 180 playoff games. In the regular season, Holmstrom contributed 122 power play goal and 107 assists and added 19 goals and 19 assists in the postseason.

Any NHL team would have a tough time replacing a power play specialist who scores over 50 percent of his career regular season goals and over 41 percent of his postseason tallies with the man advantage. Despite Detroit’s talent up front, the 2013 Wings are no exception.

The Red Wings scored twice on the power play on Friday night against the division rival St. Louis Blues.

A closer look at Friday’s tallies and Detroit’s overall performance with the man advantage reveals a few alarming trends. The Red Wings scored twice, but the Blues incurred six penalties.

The New York Islanders are the surprise leader of power play efficiency early in this lockout-shortened season. The Islanders boast a 37.5 percent conversion rate. Despite the two goals on Friday, Detroit converts at a woeful 11.1 percent rate, which places the Red Wings in the bottom five of the NHL.

As if the conversion rate was not disappointing enough, Detroit was one of if not the first team with the ignominious accomplishment of allowing a shorthanded goal against. On Saturday against Columbus, the Red Wings tied the Pittsburgh Penguins for the NHL lead when they allowed a second shorthanded goal.

Going into Friday’s game, Detroit’s power play record was bleak. The Red Wings failed to score in four of six games going 0-4 against STL, 0-7 against CBJ, 0-3 against Dallas, and 0-6 against Chicago. On Tuesday night, Detroit managed to score one goal in five chances against Dallas when the teams met for the second time this season. Detroit’s one bright spot: a 2-5 performance at home against Minnesota.

With the two goals on Friday, Detroit moved into a tie for seventh overall in the NHL with five power play goals in 7 games. After Saturday in Columbus, Detroit is eighth overall.

To put that in perspective, the Tampa Bay Lighting and San Jose Sharks are tied for the lead in the NHL with 13 power play goals in eight games. The Colorado Avalanche are last in the league with two power play goals in eight games played.

On Friday, superstar forward and captain Henrik Zetterberg notched the first of his hat trick on a 5-on-3 advantage in the first period. While not a given that a team scores with the two-man advantage, top power plays expect to do so.

In the third period of Friday’s game, fellow superstar forward and alternate captain Pavel Datsyuk scored the game winning goal during a power play stemming from a major penalty assessed to Blues captain David Backes for a phantom head shot on Detroit defenseman Kent Huskins.

At worst, Backes deserved a minor penalty for roughing or interference because the hit came well after Huskins executed a pass that had been received.  Datsyuk’s goal came after the two-minute mark of the power play and would not have counted as a power play tally had Backes’ actions been penalized appropriately.

The Red Wings promptly followed a relatively positive night at home by going scoreless yet again in five power play attempts at Columbus on Saturday.

In eight games, Detroit has shown glimpses of a more effective power play unit. At times, Johan Franzen has taken over Holmstrom’s office in front of opposing goalies on Red Wing power plays and proven moderately proficient. Dazzling rookie Damien Brunner and veterans Zetterberg, Datsyuk, and Valtteri Filppula have been shooting on the power play, but all four are squeezing their sticks too tightly and forcing near misses instead of letting the goals happen.

Detroit does not necessarily need Franzen or someone else to do his best impression of Holmstrom in order to score more power play goals. A healthy Ian White will help the power play. The aforementioned Brunner has looked dangerous when given the opportunity to play the point as the fourth forward on the power play unit. Head coach Mike Babcock is one of the best coaches in the NHL and will not let the power play unit languish.

Detroit does lead the NHL in power play opportunities with 45. Should that trend continue, the Red Wings could easily right the ship if they iron out the kinks in their man-advantage. With their talent on offense, some improvement seems more likely than continued struggles.

That said, when it comes to Detroit’s early season woes with the man-advantage, Red Wings’ fans certainly remember the old hockey adage, “Homer, sweet Homer.” Number 96 deserves a long and relaxing retirement.

Statistics and other information obtained at http://www.nhl.com/ice/teamstats.htm?fetchKey=20132ALLSAAAll&sort=powerPlayPercentage&viewName=powerPlay,www.hockeydb.com, http://espn.go.com/nhl/player/stats/_/id/384/tomas-holmstrom, and http://redwings.nhl.com/club/schedule.htm?&season=20122013.      

Share your thoughts about the NHL, the Detroit Red Wings, and hockey in general with Rhys at Twitter: @RREsq.  He can be reached via email at RhysJRichards@gmail.com.  Join the many fans of The Hockey Guys on Facebook and Twitter @TheHockeyGuys.

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