Red Wings-Blues Preview
After losing leading scorer Pavel Datsyuk to injury, the two will have to continue playing well to keep the team atop the Central Division.
The Red Wings seek their third victory in as many games this season over the St. Louis Blues when the division rivals meet on Thursday night.
Zetterberg and Cleary, who have combined for 27 goals and 61 points, were held off the scoresheet in consecutive losses to Chicago and Dallas earlier this week. The pair regrouped Wednesday against Vancouver as Zetterberg had two goals - including the game-winner - and an assist while Cleary contributed a goal and an assist in the 5-4 overtime victory.
"(Zetterberg) seemed to throw us on his back and just took over in the third period,'' said Jimmy Howard, who had 35 saves. ''That's what you need your top players to do.''
The two forwards also have been pivotal in leading Detroit (21-8-4) to a pair of home victories over St. Louis (16-12-5). Cleary had the game-winning goal and two overall in a 7-3 victory Nov. 17, and Zetterberg had four assists in a 5-3 win Dec. 15 in which Cleary chipped in a goal and two assists.
Zetterberg has a four-game points streak versus St. Louis and has totaled 21 goals and 31 assists in 43 lifetime games against the Blues. Cleary had just seven goals and 15 assists in 50 lifetime games against St. Louis prior to 2010-11.
While Zetterberg is a proven offensive player - scoring nearly one point per game over his career - this would be an ideal time for Cleary, who has never totaled more than 42 points, to start delivering. The Red Wings lost Datsyuk for at least four weeks with a broken bone in his right wrist after colliding with Canucks forward Mikael Samuelsson in the first period.
"It's unfortunate, there's nothing we can do about it. We got to find a way to dig in, just like we did tonight to get the game done,'' coach Mike Babcock said. ''More opportunity for someone else. We know Pav's a good player and we know he's coming back. He gets a little bit of vacation so he's ready for the playoffs.''
Datsyuk, who has 12 goals and 27 assists in 2010-11, had played at least 75 games in each of the last six seasons.
St. Louis opens a five-game homestand with this contest, with the first three coming against Central opponents. The Blues won for just the fourth time in 13 games Tuesday, beating Atlanta 4-2 as Ty Conklin made 15 of his 37 saves in the third period.
"We played a solid road game,'' Conklin said. ''We didn't sit back. We were solid defensively. We didn't give them too much.''
Conklin may be in line to start this game since Jaroslav Halak lost both starts to the Red Wings this season, giving up 11 goals on 67 shots. Conklin is 2-2-0 with one shutout and a 2.61 goals-against average in four starts and six lifetime games versus Detroit.
The Blues are 2-4-1 at Scottrade Center after an 8-0-1 start.