As Zetterberg and Datsyuk go, so goes Detroit
JAN 10, 2014 9:56p ET
Detroit Red Wing coach Mike Babcock constantly says that his team needs to grind out victories this season.
Gone are the days when the high-flying Wings would hurl their opposition into oblivion by rolling four lines, playing sound team defense and having consistently solid goaltending.
"We're going to play a lot of 2-1 games, and I hope we have the two," is how Babcock summed up this current year.
Yes, the Wings have been competitive on most nights, but their lack of secondary scoring, turnovers in their own end and Jimmy Howard's troubles have turned them into a two-man team.
Datsyuk is a marvel, and his unpredictability when he has the puck keeps the opposition on their heels. He's also one of the best pocket pickers in the league, ranking second in the NHL in takeaways.
Zetterberg is a true leader who leaves it all out on the ice. He plays both ends (the Wings captain has a plus-seven rating) and makes the players around him better.
All you have to do is look at the Wings' scoring statistics to see the Euro Twins' importance. Datsyuk and Zetterberg are right at the top, despite dealing with injuries that have kept them out of the lineup at times.
Every other Wings forward is either too streaky, can't stay healthy, too inexperienced or has too much wear and tear on his body to be effective.
“We're going to play a lot of 2-1 games, and I hope we have the two.”
This isn't about effort. It's more about the Red Wings' roster having just two elite players on it now, not the six or seven they had in the past.
Defensively, the Wings have a very good defenseman in Nik Kronwall, who at times elevates his game to the highest level. But the rest of Detroit's blue-line unit — except for the steady-but-unspectacular Jonathan Ericsson — is young and prone to mistakes.
The Wings would like to add a veteran defenseman, and if Brian Rafalski — who's mounting a comeback with the ECHL's Florida Everblades — has any game left, they would "kick the tires," as GM Ken Holland likes to say.
Either way, the Wings want to shore up their young defensive corps with a veteran presence. Whether they succeed depends on which teams are buyers or sellers at the trade deadline on March 5.
Goaltending has been both a mystery and a pleasant surprise for the Wings.
Jonas "The Monster" Gustavsson has been extremely stable and productive, and youngster Petr Mrazek has proven that he has a bright future in Detroit. But starter Jimmy Howard, a 2014 US Olympian, has been subpar for whatever reason.
Even though the Wings have stated that they'll only go as far as Howard takes them, which is somewhat true, their entire philosophy has been altered the last few seasons.
For years, the Wings strived to be the best team in the league and the No. 1 seed come playoff time. If they weren't contending for the President's Trophy, the entire organization felt letdown.
Now all the Wings want to do is make it into the playoffs, where — because of the parity in the league — it's a crap shoot.
With a little luck, a few players stepping up and a hot goalie, any team can win the Stanley Cup. All you have to do is qualify because seeding doesn't matter anymore.
The Wings feel that Howard needs to play his best hockey at playoff time, and they truly believe he'll be better in the postseason than he has been. They also feel that getting their injured players back will make them better, and adding one veteran defenseman will calm down their back end.
It makes sense to a degree, but your best players must be your best players.
The Wings have only two top-tier threats now, and if Datsyuk and Zetterberg aren't healthy or performing at their maximum ability, Detroit will stall out.