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Better Know Thy Enemy: Penalty Kill Preview

Special Teams play is one of the biggest swing points in every NHL playoff series, and the Ducks – Red Wings series will be no exception. However, as I pointed out halfway through the season, I firmly believe you cannot be successful in the playoffs without a good penalty kill. Now that we know our opponent, how do they do when they’re a man down?


Are you mad about having to face the Red Wings? I am. I hate their guts. I hate how they're always in the playoffs. I hate how they always win. I hate how their fans crawl out of the sticks and essentially give them an 82-game season of nothing but home games in different buildings. I hate their stupid old-timey winged-wheel logo and vintage jersey. I hate how they litter the ice with what could have been delicious fried seafood (what a waste!). I hate that they employ that diving, cheapshotting sleazebag and sorry excuse for a hockey player named Jordin Tootoo. And I hate how they call themselves "Hockeytown" when there are hundreds of other cities just as passionate about the game as they are.

But perhaps the thing I hate the most about the Motown boys is that Pavel Datsyuk guy. First... let me give him his due respect: the guy is absolutely incredible. In my opinion, Datsyuk is the best player in the world right now, bar none. He is easily the most complete player in the world. Who else do you know that consistently plays in ALL special teams situations (both power play and penalty kill), is a career PLUS-200(!), is a constant frontrunner for the Frank J. Selke trophy, and scores goals that make even ESPN take notice night after night? Not even Crosby or Ovechkin can make all of those claims.

That being said, Datsyuk is a Duck killer, and one of the central cogs to the Detroit penalty kill that the Ducks will be facing.

The Red Wing penalty kill finished the regular season 12th overall, just inside the top half of the league at an 81.7% rating. (After starting the season horribly, Anaheim's finished one spot below the Wings in 13th at 81.5%.) That number is also boosted by the fact that surprisingly, Detroit's usual stoic discipline dropped a little bit this season as they finished 19th overall in number of times shorthanded with 164. Anaheim actually finished the season with two fewer at 162.

First the good news: there is no more Nicklas Lidstrom. Also, Detroit is missing some key guys, notably Darren Helm and Todd Bertuzzi. Helm, who injured his back while lifting weights just prior to the start of training camp was a huge piece of the Red Wings penalty kill the last several seasons. Without him, the Detroit kill suffered hard. Likewise, he will likely miss the entire series. Bertuzzi, who suffered from recurring back pain as well, will return at some point in the series and it could be as early as game one.

However, the Red Wings late-season acquisition, Danny DeKeyser, has added some solidity to what was a much maligned unit. Paired with Jakub Kindl on the first defense unit, the Wings have steadily figured out their game shorthanded.

The highly-Swedish second pair is usually comprised of ultra-physical powerhouse Niklas Kronwall and Jonathan Ericsson.

At forwards, the aforementioned Pavel Datsyuk often shines, but they're stacked with star power beyond him too. Captain Henrik Zetterberg also frequently kills penalties and is no slouch either, frequently making stellar defensive plays. Beyond that Damien Brunner and Valtteri Filppula usually earn some ice time while shorthanded. All four of these players could effectively negate just about any power play blueliners and force the forwards to have to do the lion's share of the work, something the Anaheim corps have not fared well with in the second half.

And lastly, the guy Detroit will be relying on to be their best penalty killer: Jimmy Howard. A lot of Detroit fans are skeptical of their goaltender, however Howard has developed into one of the NHL's elite netminders and perhaps even worse: a Duck killer. Howard has a career record of 9-3-1 against Anaheim, supported by a mind-blowing .933 save-percentage and 2.00 goals against average. To be frank, Ducks shooters have almost never found a way to beat him.

Howard's only real weakness that I can find statistically: Wednesday games. Howard has played 34 career games on Wednesdays, more than any other mid-week day, and they're his worst nights by far, sporting his only sub-.500 record (15-17-2) and only an .897 save-percentage/2.88 GAA. (Thank you Yahoo! stats for having the most obscure numbers I've ever found online.)

The bottom line is this: if the Ducks are going to have any sort of a chance at breaking through the Detroit defensive wall while on the Power Play, they're going to have to get back some of the creativity and confidence that they were oozing through the first ten games or so. They're going to need the offensive support of at least a few power play goals. The Ducks aren't likely going to get a lot of power play chances and they're going to have to make the most of them while they can. This is particularly true of the Ducks 5-on-3 unit, which scored only once all season in seven chances. [Ed. Note: 2009 Game 7 flashback, NO! NO! MAKE IT STOP! -CK] The only team in the NHL worse while up two men was Carolina who scored only once in ten chances.

Detroit's Penalty Kill is going to be good this series, as it's heated up with the team. One of the biggest keys to the series for Anaheim is going to be breaking through it.

Big stick-tap to my friend Kayla for helping me out with this article; an awesome chick and a class act... for a Wings fan.