Datsyuk returns, leads Wing past Rangers
Feb. 7, 2011
DETROIT -- If you were to see Pavel Datsyuk away from the rink, in street clothes, you probably wouldn't give him a second look.
He's only 5-11, 194 pounds, which is kind of small for today's NHL, and he walks almost hunched.
Yet put him in a Red Wings sweater and skates out on the ice and he's a magician, a wizard, a truly unique talent.
There are so many amazing players in the NHL -- quite a few on Datsyuk's own team -- yet he is special.
The Wings needed every bit of Datsyuk's magic Monday night when they hosted the New York Rangers. The team had been shut out in two straight games, 3-0 at home against the Columbus Blue Jackets and 3-0 on the road at Nashville.
The first time Datsyuk had the puck, the fans cheered loudly, knowing what they had missed for 19 games with a broken right wrist.
After a scoreless first period, it was Datsyuk who snapped the 143:18 scoreless drought when he stole the puck from Brian Boyle along the boards and then worked a give-and-go with Jiri Hudler. Although Rangers goalie Martin Biron stopped Datsyuk's first attempt, he couldn't stop the second.
"He's a great player," Biron said, "a leader for them on offense and defense. He's a difference-maker. They got shut out two games in a row and he comes back and leads the charge."
Said Datsyuk: "But my line do a good job, give me a good pass and I'm happy I score."
After the Rangers tied the game, Datsyuk helped un-tie it less than two minutes later when he, Jiri Hudler and Jonathan Ericsson did some snazzy passing that led to Hudler's fifth goal of the season.
Drew Miller scored the game-winner at 14:37 of the third and the Wings held on for the 3-2 victory despite being shorthanded for the last 3:40 of the game, including 44 seconds 5-on-3 and the last minute 6-on-4.
Unbeknown to everyone, Datsyuk said that he didn't really feel all that great once the initial adrenaline wore off.
"It's lots exciting when a couple shifts coming through, then heavy legs, mind's too slow and I start to fight with myself," Datsyuk said. "But I'm happy when we win. It's lots exciting, especially in that last minute when we play PK. It's lots exciting on the bench."
Coach Mike Babcock was thrilled to have his top center back.
"I didn't see him fight through anything," Babcock said. "That's what I expected him to be. He skated. He's one of those guys that had to be comfortable before he came back.
"He was cleared by the doctors a while ago and so, obviously, his ability to handle the puck and shoot was important. He shot the puck one time, the guy made a nice blocker save on him. He's just a real good player and good players are good players."
Like Babcock, captain Nick Lidstrom didn't notice any drop-off in Datsyuk's play.
"We know how good he is offensively and defensively, so it gives our team a boost to have a world-class player like him back," Lidstrom said. "It didn't look like he had
missed 19 games."
Datsyuk also made a difference on the defensive end. Rangers forward Derek Stepan, who had one of New York's goals, had the puck and was in the Wings' zone when Datsyuk took it away from him, making him Jimmy Howard's new best friend.
"It's great," Howard said. "He eliminates odd-man rushes, the way he tracks and he gets back and he strips pucks. Just him being out there, the opposition, they have to take notice and that might open up other players out there."
Howard needed all the friends he could get as he made a season-high 45 saves.
Datsyuk did not take any face-offs in the game, and wasn't sure when that would happen.
"I like left wing," he joked. "I don't know. We see. Have to protect something. Little bit pain but it always happen like that. I fight through it, pain."
Clearly, Datsyuk is not 100 percent. After speaking with reporters and doing off-ice work, he came out of the dressing room to say hello to Rangers center Artem Anisimov, a fellow Russian. When Anisimov shook Datsyuk's hand, he winced.
But an 85-90 percent Datsyuk is a lot better than nothing, especially considering the fact that the Wings might be down another forward.
Valtteri Filppula left after just 12 shifts and 10:22 of ice time.
"A little bump on his knee there and we're going to check him (Tuesday) and see where he's at," Babcock said.
Babcock's message for team
Babcock was pleased with the Wings' victory Monday night, but he still sees areas where the Wings need to improve.
He used the Rangers as an example of what the Wings need to do more.
"They're a team that plays hard and they funnel a lot of pucks to the net," Babcock said. "They just throw it blindly. I think we can learn a lot from New York in the fact that we had talked to our guys about throwing pucks to the paint all the time and the amount of confusion it creates.
"If you notice the way they threw it off the back boards (Monday night), that creates confusion. We should be doing the same thing. We always want to make one more nice play and back check instead of just shooting it on net and staying on top of the other team. I thought they did a good job of that."