DEC 18, 2013 11:51a ET
It's not just the fact that he still leads the team in scoring with 30 points (11 goals, 19 assists) in 28 games despite missing the last eight. The Wings are 1-5-2 in that span.
It's the intangibles that Zetterberg brings every game, the same intangibles that got him to the NHL despite being the 210th overall pick in the 1999 NHL Entry Draft and make him such a difficult opponent for the other team's top offensive player.
As the captain, Zetterberg is relied upon to set the tone, to provide whatever it is the team might need on a given night.
With the team decimated by injuries and the losses mounting, the Red Wings need a little bit of everything these days.
One thing they need for certain is scoring. In their last six games, they have a total of seven goals.
The Wings have been outscored 99-91 this season, which is not a common statistic for them.
In Tuesday night's 5-2 home loss to the Anaheim Ducks, the Wings actually got on the board first, courtesy of a pretty goal by Tomas Jurco, playing in his second NHL game.
"I get great pass from Millsie (Drew Miller) and somehow I find myself alone in front of the goalie and made a little move and put it between his legs, five hole, and it went in," Jurco said. "So it was a great moment for me."
Jurco and the Wings didn't celebrate long. Just 25 seconds later the Ducks responded as Jakob Silfverberg evened it up.
By the time the period ended, the Ducks held a 4-1 lead, scoring just before time expired in the first 20 minutes.
"I liked how we started," Wings coach Mike Babcock said. "Things were going pretty good for about three minutes. Obviously, it didn't go very well for us. They shot the puck in the net and we lost momentum very fast and didn't have a very good effort from that point on."
The Wings have had trouble with allowing goals late in periods.
"All we gotta do is get out of the period there and we didn't do that either," Babcock said. "A tough night for us, to say the least, very humbling, to say the least. Anytime you're in your own building and things go like that for you, it's not a very good feeling.
"Obviously, we've got a bunch of kids here right now. We need to provide better leadership and insulate them better than we did (Tuesday night)."
Zetterberg is not the only player out.
Also on the sidelines are Darren Helm (shoulder), Stephen Weiss (groin), Danny DeKeyser (shoulder), Jimmy Howard (knee), Johan Franzen (concussion protocol), Justin Abdelkader (concussion protocol) and Gustav Nyquist (groin).
"They got a good team, we understand that totally and we're without people but to me, those are all excuses," Babcock said. "You can dig in and play better than we did (Tuesday night). That's not good enough."
Defenseman Niklas Kronwall agreed that the injuries can't be an excuse.
"We're a better team than we showed," Kronwall said. "That was embarrassing at times.
"At times we were all over the place and nowhere. We were at times running around like a chicken with our heads cut off. We made mistakes and they made us pay for it right away."
It's understandable that the more veteran Wings might try to take on a little too much responsibility in the absence of so many of their veterans.
But they can't succumb to that temptation.
"I think we do have to keep it simple, thereâs no question," Daniel Alfredsson said. "You do the best with the group you have. We have guys coming up from Grand Rapids playing hard and getting a chance so (Tuesday night) was not what we wanted but we gotta keep pushing.
"We've had some games where I've seen that we're right in there and we find a way to lose and we have to change that."
It's incumbent on players like Pavel Datsyuk, Alfredsson, Kronwall, Jonathan Ericsson, Daniel Cleary, Todd Bertuzzi and even Jonas Gustavsson to help keep the team afloat until Zetterberg and the others return.
Like Zetterberg does when he plays, they have to set the tone, maintain composure and show how to respond when adversity hits.
Thursday against the Calgary Flames would be a good step in that direction.
The Flames (13-15-5) have had their own issues but they do have seven road wins.
"We were in a similar position earlier in the season," Alfredsson said. "We were struggling and couldnât get much going and then you know we get going a little bit and then play extremely well for a period of time and thatâs the thing in today's NHL, every game is tough and you gotta try to keep your losing streaks as short as possible and your winning streak as long as possible and we gotta stop this one pretty quick."