DETROIT – Henrik Zetterberg is off to a tremendous start this season, and that’s been a great thing for the Red Wings. If not for his production, and that of his cohort, Pavel Datsyuk, the Wings would likely share something in common with this week’s opponents – dwelling in the bottom half of the Eastern Conference.
Zetterberg leads the Red Wings with 30 points in 27 games, which ranks second to his fast start in 2007-08 when he amassed 37 points in 27 games.
“It always makes it easier when you help the team in scoring,” Zetterberg said. “I think last year after the lockout I had a pretty good start, too. Definitely enjoy that more than those starts I had a couple years ago.”
The 33-year-old Zetterberg, who has battled lower back pain in the past, is crediting his summer workout regimen for his fast start and prolonged health. He ranks seventh in the league in assists (19) and points, and ninth with a plus-13 rating.
“Skated a little more before I got over here,” Zetterberg said. “When you were younger you could skate for a week and you were ready. Maybe it took a while for me to understand that. Maybe I had to skate a little bit more. I did that with my team back home in Sweden (Timra) before I got over here and when I came over here I felt good skating-wise and conditioning-wise.”
Zetterberg has been the Red Wings’ most valuable player in the first third of the season. He’s one of the best two-way players in the world and continues to be the Red Wings’ leader in critical situations.
“He was a force at the end of last year and he’s probably been our best player this year,” goalie Jimmy Howard said. “Night in and night out he’s finding ways to put pucks in the net for us or setting guys up. He’s still also very good in his own zone as well. Not surprised at all with how Z has been playing.”
This is another big week for the Wings, who sit in fourth-place in the Atlantic, five-points behind division-leading Boston (38 points). On paper it certainly would seem that the Red Wings have a manageable week ahead with games against teams in the bottom half of the conference standings – Philadelphia, New Jersey and Florida.
Zetterberg has a combined 29 points in 28 career games against the Flyers, Devils and Panthers. They’re not his best stats, but Zetterberg is playing some of the best hockey of his 11 NHL seasons.
It’s also helped others have found their scoring touch lately, giving the Wings secondary scoring that had been missing as Darren Helm, Johan Franzen and Daniel Alfredsson have all sprung to life on the score sheet.
“Everyone’s getting more and more confidence,” Zetterberg said. “The stretch we had there where we played OK but we somehow only got one point each game. It is tough for your confidence but last couple games here a lot of guys have been making the right decision. That’s what we want to keep doing. Play well in our structure but in the same way when we have a chance be creative.”
Alfredsson seemed to get that message last week. His three-point night last Friday came in his 1,200th career NHL game, and according to the Elias Sports Bureau, Alfredsson became the sixth player in Red Wings’ history to score two or more goals in a regular-season game at age 40 or older joining Gordie Howe (16 times), Nicklas Lidstrom (twice), Alex Delvecchio, Steve Thomas and Steve Yzerman.
“For a while there no one scored except Pav and Hank so obviously it was huge for us,” coach Mike Babcock said. “We need him going. Leadership’s key on any team, I think we got good leadership in our group. I think Alfredsson coming has given us another guy. When I think of leadership on our team there’s lots of guys – Howie, Kronner, Pav, Z, now Alfie. That to me gives us a real stable core of guys who provide leadership. To me leadership is critical. When things go good it’s not as big a deal, when things go bad, that’s when you need to be stable and I think we’ve been good that way.”
With that, here’s a look ahead to this week in Hockeytown:
WEDNESDAY – vs. PHILADEPHIA (12-12-2): A slow start to the season cost Peter Laviolette his job, but since Craig Berube took over as bench boss, the Flyers are 12-9-2, including a 5-2 loss at Detroit on Oct. 12. This is the second of three meetings, and last at Joe Louis Arena, for these new Eastern Conference rivals. Since the coaching change, the Flyers’ offense has gained traction, scoring 34 goals in their last 11 games (3.09 GPG), during which time they are 8-2-1. They previously scored 22 goals in the 15 games prior to that since the start of the season (1.47 GPG). Philadelphia’s goals-against average is slowly dropping, and now ranks 10th in the league at 2.38 goals allowed per game. The Flyers have held their opponent to two or fewer goals in 16 out of their 26 games this season and in 10 of their last 14. In those 14 games, the Flyers have allowed just 25 goals for a 1.79 average. … The Flyers broke a two-game losing streak last Friday, leading into a six-game road trip – including’s Wednesday’s Rivalry Night in Detroit – that will take them away for nearly two weeks. In all, the Flyers will play 14 of their next 18 on the road. … The Flyers are 11-3-1 when they score first, but 1-9-1 when allowing the first goal, which is second-poorest in the league ahead of only the New York Rangers (1-11-1).
PLAYER TO WATCH: Claude Giroux’s six-game scoring streak come to an end last Friday, but he is still in the team scoring lead with four goals and 18 points. Since Berube voiced his displeasure with Giroux’s play recently, the Flyers’ captain has responded positively, producing three goals and five assists in the last eight games while centering the top line between Jakub Voracek and Scott Hartnell. Giroux has four goals and eight assists in the last 13 games after recording just six assists in the first 13 games of the season. He has two goals and two assists in six career games against the Red Wings.
FRIDAY – at NEW JERSEY (11-11-5): Following their 1-0 overtime win over Buffalo on Saturday, the Devils are 3-1-1 against Atlantic Division opponents this season. The Devils have the best and worst special teams at home with the top-ranked penalty kill that is 32-for-34 (94.1 percent) at the Prudential Center, and second overall (78-of-89) behind Vancouver. However, the Devils’ power play is spiraling in the abyss, going 2-for-24 in the last nine games. Overall, the Devils’ power play at home, which is 3-for-30, ranks No. 29 in the league. … New Jersey hasn’t fared well in the shootout, losing all four games that have advanced to the skills competition. Seven different shooters – Travis Zajac (0-3), Patrik Elias (0-2), Michael Ryder (0-2), Ryane Clowe (0-2), Damien Brunner (0-2), Adam Henrique (0-2), and Jaromir Jagr (0-1) – are a combined 0-for-14 in shootout games. The Devils have lost eight consecutive shootouts, dating back to last March, which is one loss shy of the NHL record, which was accomplished three times, including Calgary's recent nine-game losing skid. New Jersey's 20 consecutive SO attemptswithout scoring is tied for the league record established by Tampa Bay in 2009. … According to the Elias Sports Bureau, goalie Cory Schneider's average of one shutout every six starts over the last two seasons is the best rate for any NHL goaltender who has made at least 30 starts since the beginning of the 2013 season. … Defenseman Andy Greene extended his point streak to five games with an assist on Steve Bernier’s overtime-winner against Buffalo on Saturday.
PLAYER TO WATCH: Jagr has come in contact with a couple of Red Wings’ legends lately. Last week, Jagr scored career goal No. 692 of his NHL career, tying Steve Yzerman for eighth place in league history. Jagr is just two goals behind Mark Messier (694) for seventh place all-time. A week earlier, Jagr scored his 121st career game-winning goal – at Los Angeles on Nov. 21 – to tie Gordie Howe for the league mark. Jagr netted his 119th career game-winner on Oct. 29 vs. Tampa Bay, passing Phil Esposito (118) for second place all-time. … Jagr, who has amassed 1,710 career points, is the NHL’s leading active scorer, as well as the top-ranked Czech-born player in league history. … The Red Wings have held Jagr to a .091 shooting percentage, his lowest against any league team in a 20-season career. However, Jagr has produced eight goals and 19 assists in 29 career games against Detroit.
SATURDAY – vs. FLORIDA (7-15-5): This is the time the Red Wings will face the Panthers in the newly re-aligned Eastern Conference, though Florida hasn’t fared very well against its divisional rivals this season, collecting one of a possible 12 points. Special teams have been anything but for the Panthers, owners of the league’s worst power play (10-of-94) and No. 29 ranked penalty kill (57-of-79). … Since Nov. 9 when he became the 12th coach in franchise history, interim coach Peter Horachek has led the Panthers to a 4-6-1 record. The former Flint Generals’ coach most recently served as the head coach of Florida’s American Hockey League affiliate in San Antonio. Injuries have been a problem for the Panthers, who are still without forward Tomas Kopecky (hand), who is considered day to day, and defensemen Ed Jovanovski (hip) and Matt Gilroy (lower body) still on injured reserve. Though Florida is getting a lift from its young core of talented players like Alex Barkov, the Panthers’ first round pick (2nd overall) in last June’s draft. The second overall selection, Barkov scored in his NHL debut, becoming the youngest player – at 18 years and 31 days – in league history since Jan. 8, 1944 to score and is the eighth-youngest player at the time he scored his first NHL goal. It's the second straight season that a Panthers’ rookie scored in their NHL debut, joining last year’s Calder Trophy winner Jonathan Huberdeau, who scored on his first shot last Jan. 19.
PLAYER TO WATCH: Scottie Upshall had an outstanding November, tying a personal-best for a single month in his career. With his goal Saturday night against Pittsburgh, Upshall recorded his 12th point in 15 games in November, equaling his career-high established in December 2009 when he registered seven goals and five assists in 15 games. Last month, the Panthers’ forward had six goals and six assists, including two multi-point games, while registering seven points in his last seven games. Upshall has gained great responsibilities and production since the coaching change, and no has nine points in his last nine games. He had just two goals and three assists in his previous 15 game. Now in his 11th NHL season, Upshall, who is with his fifth club, has one goal and three assists in 18 career games against the Red Wings.
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