DETROIT — When a player is given the captain’s “C,” there are certain expectations that go along with that honor.
Red Wings captain Henrik Zetterberg knew that when he inherited the role from Nick Lidstrom, he also inherited the responsibility of being the team’s best player night in and night out.
Seven games into the season, Zetterberg has more than lived up to that promise.
All you needed to see was the very end of Friday night’s game against the St. Louis Blues.
The Wings were protecting a one-goal lead, but the Blues had a power play and pulled their goaltender, so they had the 6-on-4 advantage. The Wings cleared the puck into the Blues’ end. T.J. Oshie gave chase and was a little ahead of Zetterberg, who was fighting to get to the puck.
Oshie and Zetterberg got to the puck at almost the same time, both falling as they tried to control it.
From his prone position, Zetterberg managed to get enough of his stick on the puck to get it into the empty net with 12.6 seconds left.
“The longer I’m in the game, the more I understand that skill is a great thing to have,” coach Mike Babcock said. “The best players are so competitive it’s not even funny. That was an example tonight.”
The goal secured the 5-3 victory and gave Zetterberg his fifth career hat trick. Zetterberg has a six-game point streak, with five goals and seven assists in that span.
Zetterberg scored the first two goals of the game, the first on the power play on a nice pass from Damien Brunner and the second on a breakaway pass from Jonathan Ericsson.
“Mule (Johan Franzen) was doing pretty much all of the work for me there,” Ericsson said. “He’s going down to the corner and giving me a lot of time just bumping it over right on my stick. I got all day to make that pass, and Hank’s coming there, flying as I said. He doesn’t make any mistakes there.”
Those first two goals were also the first the Wings have scored in the first period this season.
Zetterberg also assisted on the Wings’ other goals, one a perfect pass to Ericsson and the other to Pavel Datsyuk on the power play.
“I don’t know how he gets those passes through, but I think he passes through like three or four guys and it ended up on my stick and I just had to put it on place and try to shoot and it went in,” Ericsson said.
Zetterberg is just the second player this season to have three goals and two assists in a game, joining Buffalo’s Thomas Vanek, who did that Thursday night in Boston. The five points tied a career high.
“Today was Hank night,” Datsyuk said. “They gave my Fathead, but now it looks like we need to change to Hank.”
Zetterberg’s having such a night is remarkable, but the fact that he did it after missing practice Thursday because he was sick makes it even more impressive.
“I felt good,” Zetterberg said. “Sometimes it’s nice to have two days off, and especially with a schedule like this. I got a little extra rest, so I can’t complain.”
Zetterberg might complain when he hears what Datsyuk said about his illness.
“I hope he’s sick every day if he plays like that,” Datsyuk joked. “Of course, he’s the captain now. He’s every year better and better and more hard to play against him. I never seen a five-point night. Or maybe I have a short memory.”
Ericsson was impressed with his fellow Swede’s perseverance and competitiveness.
“Oh my God, if I had been out for a day like that, I would be struggling to be skating, and he was flying out there,” Ericsson said. “I don’t know how he does it.”
No doubt the season opener was weighing on Zetterberg and his teammates’ minds. They were routed, 6-0, in St. Louis that night and were determined not to let that happen again.
“It was nice to see that we could bounce back,” Zetterberg said. “It wasn’t a pretty sight when we went and played there in their building. It’s nice to see we played the way we did, especially when they got ahead and we found a way to get back and get the win.”
The way his new captain is playing gives his coach great confidence in what is possible for the Wings this season.
“All in all, he was ultra-competitive, and I thought Pav was great, too,” Babock said. “I hear a lot about the things we don’t have, but I don’t know how many teams have Pav and Z and that’s a pretty good starting point for me.
“We’re not going away here. We’re going to continue to battle and keep getting better and better.”