Wings' Datsyuk starting to look like old self
During an interview following a 5-2 home win against Nashville this past weekend, the dynamic 32-year old Russian center sensed a chance to score with the TV cameras rolling. He was told that Wings coach Mike Babcock had just talked about how much he likes it when Datsyuk takes the puck to the net, like he did against the Predators for his second goal of the game.
A slight grin formed on Datsyuk's face.
"So far, I do it the one time," he said, pausing. "I think he liked it."
The dry humor drew some chuckles, but his net charge late in the second that night was liked by a lot more people than just Babcock. His teammates liked it, too, including a couple whom began emulating it in the third.
"I saw (Valtteri Filppula) go to the net twice in the third," Babcock said. "It's amazing how contagious stuff like that is, so it was great to see."
Something else that's been great for the Wings to see is Datsyuk looking like his old self after a bit of a down year in 2009-10 (27 goals, 70 points in 80 games). After a month of games, Datsyuk's 6 goals are tied with Johan Franzen for the team lead and his 11 points are tied for second with Nicklas Lidstrom.
Datsyuk is also back to creating plays by utilizing his great strength and refusing to be knocked off the puck easily.
"He's always been strong when you're playing against him, but I think he's using it more to his advantage now," said Lidstrom, who's another reason the Wings are off to a good start. "He'll take you to the net and he'll hang onto it waiting for someone to get open. When he's hanging onto the puck like that, he's very hard to get the puck away from."
Then there's his fighting ability. Yes, you read that right.
He might not exactly remind people of Bob Probert, but Datsyuk did show the fire he's been playing with this season in the season-opener at home against Anaheim – a 4-0 Detroit win. Toward the end of the game, the 5-foot-11, 194-pound Datsyuk dropped the gloves and fought Ducks forward Corey Perry (6-foot-3, 206 pounds).
Datsyuk acquitted himself well in the scrap by holding off Perry and even getting in a few shots. Chicago Blackhawks forward Marian Hossa, who was teammates with Datsyuk in Detroit, was impressed enough to text the Russian dynamo – who was coming to Chicago to play the Hawks the next night.
"I said, 'Nice job, Pavey, but no fighting tonight, OK?'" Hossa said, smirking.
Datsyuk didn't get into any fights with the Hawks and also didn't score a point in Detroit's 3-2 win that spoiled Chicago's home-opener and banner raising. That turned out to be one of just two games thus far that Datsyuk hasn't logged a point. Since the Detroit game on Oct. 9, Datsyuk's been on a tear.
He scored points in six of the next seven games, including a five-game streak that he's currently on heading into Calgary on Wednesday night. It looks a lot like a guy out to prove wrong the skeptics who pondered whether his lapse in production last season was a sign of diminishing skills.
Many players would be satisfied with the kind of season Datsyuk had in 2009-10, in which he finished with a plus-17 rating and won his third straight Selke Trophy for being the best defensive forward in the League. Still, by Datsyuk’s standards – 97 points the previous two seasons -- it was a significant drop-off.
As the Wings are showing now, however, some of those struggles were brought on by injuries to Datsyuk's linemates -- Henrik Zetterberg and Tomas Holmstrom. Datsyuk struggled to find on-ice chemistry with their replacements last season, which prompted some to wonder if Datsyuk's skills were declining.
Wonder no more.
Led by Datsyuk's play at both ends of the rink, Detroit's top line is back to being one of the most fearsome in the League. Along with Datsyuk's big start, Zetterberg leads the team with 12 points (3 goals) and Holmstrom is coming on after a slow start (3 goals, 5 points). After the Nashville win, Datsyuk said it's just nice having the band back together -- so to speak.
"I'm happy we're rolling a little bit and happy to help (the) team," he said. "We're playing together and having fun out there. It's a good thing when you're having fun."
"He was outstanding again (against the Predators)," said Zetterberg, who set up Datsyuk's first goal in that game. "It's fun to see that he got two goals. He's been creating a lot of chances and I'm happy for him. It's fun to play with him."
Conversely, it's not nearly as fun to play against him. Or them. Much of the talk in Detroit thus far has focused on what's wrong with the Red Wings' third line centered by veteran Mike Modano, but the bigger story is what's going right for the top trio. Veteran goalie Chris Osgood thinks the answer can be found simply in playing smart hockey – which allows the Wings' stars to dominate play for long stretches.
"We have so much talent that if we just get pucks in deep, don't turn pucks over and let our talent take over, we're going to win a ton of games," Osgood said. "Look at Pav and Hank. To me, you can say (Evgeni) Malkin and (Sidney) Crosby and a lot of other guys, but to me (Datsyuk and Zetterberg) are the best combination there is in the League. If we play smart the majority of the time, we're going to win a lot of games."
And Datsyuk will get more chances to unleash that dry sense of humor.
Author: Brian Hedger | NHL.com Correspondent