DETROIT — It’s safe to say that without Pavel Datsyuk the Red Wings would be in a lot of trouble.
They’re still not out of the woods yet, but after a 4-1 victory over the Dallas Stars Tuesday night, things seem to be on an upward trend.
An early problem for the Wings so far this season has been the number of penalties they’re committing.
Through six games, Detroit has 34 minor penalties, four fighting majors (two courtesy of Jordin Tootoo on Tuesday) and two 10-minute misconducts. Last season through six games, the Wings had 22 penalties and two fighting majors.
The Wings came into Tuesday’s game ranked 29th in the league on the penalty kill, having allowed eight goals in 25 chances. But the Wings penalty-kill unit stood out against the Stars, holding them scoreless in five power-play chances.
“We had a lot of time to practice it (Tuesday), took penalties,” said Valtteri Filppula, who scored two goals. “But PK was good. It’s really important to play like that and hopefully we can keep going on that, too, because you get a lot of penalties both ways so you need your special teams working.”
Coach Mike Babcock was pleased with the way his team killed off the multitude of penalties.
“I said to (assistant coach Bill Peters) today that I thought that was the best that we’ve done pressure-wise since probably ’09,” Babcock said. “I thought we did a real good job. Good on Pete, he’s got those guys organized and really making it hard on the other teams going after them.”
Despite the improvement, the Wings aren’t doing themselves any favors by continuing to take penalties.
The first reason is obvious — they’re giving the other team too many opportunities with the man (and often two-man) advantage. That also hurts the ice time of players who do not play on special teams.
But worst of all, now that Darren Helm is out again because of his back injury, it forces Detroit’s most talented offensive players to kill penalties.
Datsyuk is good on the penalty kill, especially since he’s been tremendous on faceoffs. But forcing him to play short-handed so much — 3:26 on Tuesday — takes away from the time he can spend setting up his teammates for goals.
That talent for setting up his teammates was on display against the Stars as he made a perfect pass to Filppula at 13:14 of the second period after stealing the puck away from Jordie Benn behind the net, tying the game at 1.
“It’s kind of whenever he has the puck, trying to get ready and you can always get it,” Filppula said. “It’s a good example of that. Nice pass there and try to shoot it right away. Luckily it went in.”
In the third period, Datsyuk passed across the slot to Filppula, who basically had an open net on the right side. It was the Wings’ fourth goal of the game.
The goals were the first for Filppula this season.
“Couple of great passes by Pav, especially when you’re playing on his line, all you got to do is get open and he’ll find a way to get it to you,” goaltender Jimmy Howard said.
Datsyuk takes good care of himself and is in great shape, but he does turn 35 this year and there’s no need to wear him out on the penalty kill, particularly in this lockout-shortened, compressed season.
The last thing the Wings want is to have to fight so hard to get to the playoffs for a 22nd consecutive season only to be too tired to do anything once there.
Todd Bertuzzi was feeling very lucky after Tuesday’s victory. He took a stick to the eye, from Dallas’ Benn, with four minutes left in the second period.
“I think I’m pretty fortunate,” Bertuzzi said. “I still don’t know what the extent of it is. Precautionary check out (Wednesday) to make sure everything’s OK inside.”
It looked bad when it first happened as Bertuzzi rushed off the ice to the dressing room with the team doctors following behind.
“The blade of the stick came straight into my eye, so obviously, being around and knowing people who’ve been injured, you kind of panic a little bit, you don’t know what’s going on,” Bertuzzi said. “It’s your livelihood. I was a little bit worried but our good doctors made sure I was fine before I went out.”
Bertuzzi returned in the third period and even assisted on Filppula’s second goal.
Bertuzzi, who turns 38 on Saturday, does not wear a visor and didn’t wear one in the third period.
“I’ve never really worn one,” Bertuzzi said. “I know it’s probably stupid. People will call me stupid for not wearing it. I played many years and it’s a tough adjustment to do. I know it’s a stupid comment to say.”
His coach agreed with that.
“Wearing a visor might be a good thing,” Babcock said. “I’d hate to see that happen to a guy because that could change your life forever. That’s part of the game, but a visor would fix that.”