The Red Wings' two-man disadvantage
A big component of why the Red Wings have had bloated scores this season -- Detroit leads the NHL in goals scored per game and has allowed the ninth most goals against per game -- has been 5-on-3 play.
Obviously, more goals are scored with a two-man advantage than with a one-man advantage or at even strength. But during 5-on-3s, no team comes close to the pinball action and goal-light flashing that happens at Red Wings games.
Entering Thursday night's game in Edmonton (9 p.m, FSN), there have been 10 5-on-3 goals scored during Red Wings games this season -- four by Detroit and six by opponents. That's double the next highest total of five (Buffalo). The league average is 2.6 combined 5-on-3 goals for and against.
"We take too many penalties," said Detroit coach Mike Babcock. "Stop taking penalties. To me, that's focus."
The Red Wings are the second least penalized team in the NHL. But Babcock's point is valid when it comes to penalties taken while short-handed. Detroit has had to defend a 5-on-3 11 times in 17 games while being on a two-man advantage just eight times.
"There are more 5-on-3s," said Andreas Lilja, who partners with Nicklas Lidstrom on Detroit's top short-handed unit. "You think like that as a player, 'OK, I can get away with a little bit more when I'm short-handed.' But this year, they don't care if you're 4-on-5, 3-on-5, 3-on-6, they'll call a penalty. If it's a penalty, they'll call it."
The lengths of two-man advantages are part of the problem. In a 7-6 loss to Pittsburgh last week, Johan Franzen preceded Valtteri Filppula to the penalty box by just six seconds. The Red Wings weathered the first 1:13 of the 1:54 of 5-on-3 time with Sidney Crosby -- the 2007 Hart Trophy winner -- and Evgeni Malkin -- a 2008 Hart finalist -- firing away. But finally Malkin found the back of the net.
"Five-on-threes are normally like 20 seconds," said Babcock. "We killed the first 1:13, didn't we? We were unbelievable. How long are you going to give Crosby and Malkin the chance to fire away?"
Last season, the Red Wings allowed seven 5-on-3 goals in 82 regular-season games. That figure is up to six in the first 17 games of this season.
Statistically, the problem isn't an either/or situation. The Red Wings are spending more time killing off 5-on-3 power plays and they've been less effective in those situations.
This season, the Red Wings are fourth worst in the NHL in 5-on-3 goals allowed per 60 minutes of ice time (40.6) and sixth worst in 5-on-3 shots allowed per 60 minutes (121.8), according to behindthenet.ca.
All of last season, the Red Wings had to kill off 15.1 minutes of 5-on-3 time, but had a two-man advantage for 27.3 minutes. This season, the Red Wings have already been on the wrong side of 5-on-3s for 8.9 minutes and been on the right side for 8.0 minutes.
Short-handed more often and worse at short-handed defense.
"Of course you hope that you can play better," said Henrik Zetterberg, who is the first option at forward for Detroit defending 5-on-3s. "But they always put their best players out there on a two-man advantage. They should score. But I think also, some of them we could have had. They will create some good chances. You have to make a big save or a big block to get out of it."