DETROIT – Pavel Datsyuk’s English isn’t always easy to understand. But the Russian star perfectly described what Justin Abdelkader meant to the Red Wings in the first half of the season, which ended with Thursday’s 3-0 win over Edmonton.
“He goes through and gets the puck to me or goes back in front of the net and fights for every puck,” Datsyuk said, Friday afternoon. “Some people only measure him if he scores. But if you see him … he does a lot of hard jobs.”
Abdelkader was finally rewarded for his hard work when he scored his first goal of the season Thursday at Joe Louis Arena, which snapped a 41-game scoring drought.
Using an analogy to sum up Abdelkader’s contribution to the top six forwards this season, Datsyuk said, “It’s like somebody needs to pull the piano and somebody needs to play the piano. This is a guy who pulls the piano.”
Forget that Abdelkader’s first goal in nearly a year was an empty-netter. After the game, the former Michigan State standout – who scored perhaps the most important goal in Spartans’ hockey history with his last-second gem that clinched the 2007 national championship – said it felt like he hadn’t scored in four years.
“It’s one of those things where I felt that I had a lot of chances, but for whatever reason haven’t gotten the breaks,” Abdelkader said. “Hopefully this will break the bad spell and hopefully I keep doing the things that I’ve been doing, getting the pucks to the net and hope for some breaks. But it’s always nice to get that first one.”
Abdelkader went 41 games, including last season’s playoffs, without a goal. But what he has lacked in the scoring column, Abdelkader has more than made up for in other areas with energy and physicality. He leads the Red Wings with 52 hits this year, a category that he has led all Detroit forwards in over the last two seasons.
Abdelkader also got a break when coach Mike Babcock elevated him to the Datsyuk line opposite Daniel Cleary on Feb. 21.
Though he believes the dubious streak was his longest at any level, sticking to the basics will help lift him out of his doldrums, Abdelkader said.
“I’m just trying to get pucks to the net,” said Abdelkader, who is sixth on the team with 42 shots. “There have been a lot of chances that I’ve had. They’ve been real close, but not quite. I feel that it was coming, and I guess it’s always nice to break it on a goal like that last night.
“I just want to keep doing a lot of the same things. Points are one thing, goals are one thing, but at the same time you want to feel good about your game all over the rink, offensively and defensively.”
MID-TERM GRADES: Now that the Red Wings have reached the halfway point to this compressed 48-game season, Babcock said they missed the goal by two points.
Heading into this weekend’s home-and-home series with Columbus, the Red Wings are fourth in the Western Conference standings with 28 points.
“We thought that if we had 30 points we'd be in a good position,” Babcock said. “We actually had hoped to get 34, but we still think we've done a lot of good stuff and we're getting better.”
The Wings have a far more positive outlook heading into the second half of the campaign, compared to the beginning of the year when it seemed that someone went down with an injury on a daily basis.
Depth from the club’s minor-league affiliate in Grand Rapids has helped with putting a rosier perspective on the last seven weeks of the season, Babcock said.
“All those guys (from Grand Rapids) got one game, period,” he said. “Then they earned another game, and then they earned another game, and I look down and they've played 14 games, some of them. Those came on an earned basis.”
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