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A Game within a Game

Zetterberg, Thornton plan for head-to-head battles

Friday, 10.28.2011 / 3:22 PM ET / News
By Bill Roose  - DetroitRedWings.com
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A Game within a Game
Henrik Zetterberg and San Jose's Joe Thornton know each other very well when it comes to taking face-offs against one another. (Photo by Dave Reginek)
DETROIT -- When you’re watching tonight’s game, pay close attention to the activities in the face-off circle, especially the gamesmanship when Henrik Zetterberg lines-up across from San Jose’s Joe Thornton.

As much as the Red Wings and Sharks have built a rivalry over the last few seasons, Zetterberg and Thornton have done so on a personal level. While they won’t be mistaken for the league’s top two centermen at taking draws, their staunch battles for puck-possession could likely determine tonight’s outcome … again.

“Actually tonight is going to be fun,” Zetterberg said. “I’ll be taking a lot of face-offs against Joe, and have done so throughout my career. Usually they’re some pretty good battles.”

In 11 games last season – including an epic Western Conference semifinal series that went the distance – the two centers went head-to-head in the circle 82 times with Zetterberg winning the draws 47.6 percent of the time.

But both men said Friday morning that more goes into taking draws then fans know, including some occasional shenanigans.

“You try to know what they like and what they try to do,” Zetterberg said, “and they probably know what you like to do. Basically, it comes down to cheating. The guy who cheats the most usually wins the most.”

Thornton agreed, saying, “If you ain’t cheating, you ain’t trying, that’s my motto half the time.”

Another big factor is the five-inches in height that Zetterberg gives up to the 6-foot-4 Thornton, who uses every bit of his 230-pounds to muscle face-off wins.

“Being a bigger guy, you have to use your strength, use your stick-size and just try to over-power other centers,” Thornton said. “I try to be as strong as I can, just try to be quick and try to be powerful on them. That’s what my plan usually is.”

By league rule, the visiting player must put his stick blade on the ice first, immediately followed by the home player. This gives the home team the advantage, which should work in Zetterberg’s favor tonight.

“It is different at home against him,” said Zetterberg, of Thornton. “He likes to come in late with the stick, and he has great timing and he’s strong on his bottom hand. I’ll say that it’s a little easier at home. But in the Shark Tank, it’s tough to take draws against him.”

While Thornton lists Vancouver’s Manny Malhotra as the NHL center that gives him the most trouble on draws, Zetterberg isn’t far behind, he said.

“With Hank, he’s just so competitive, he never gives up, and I think he digs and it’s a sense of pride for him,” Thornton said. “I think Malholtra is the toughest guy I face. But Pavel (Datsyuk) is tough, Hank and (Ryan) Kesler are tough. Those are the guys that you play the most because they’re in your own conference and you’re always going head-to-head with them.”

Follow Bill Roose on Twitter | @RooseBill

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STANDINGS

EASTERN CONFERENCE
  TEAM GP W L OT GF GA PTS
1 p - WSH 82 56 18 8 252 193 120
2 x - PIT 82 48 26 8 245 203 104
3 y - FLA 82 47 26 9 239 203 103
4 x - NYR 82 46 27 9 236 217 101
5 x - NYI 82 45 27 10 232 216 100
6 x - TBL 82 46 31 5 227 201 97
7 x - PHI 82 41 27 14 214 218 96
8 x - DET 82 41 30 11 211 224 93
9 BOS 82 42 31 9 240 230 93
10 CAR 82 35 31 16 198 226 86
11 OTT 82 38 35 9 236 247 85
12 NJD 82 38 36 8 184 208 84
13 MTL 82 38 38 6 221 236 82
14 BUF 82 35 36 11 201 222 81
15 CBJ 82 34 40 8 219 252 76
16 TOR 82 29 42 11 198 246 69

STATS

2015-2016 REGULAR SEASON
SKATERS: GP G A +/- Pts
H. Zetterberg 82 13 37 -15 50
P. Datsyuk 66 16 33 7 49
D. Larkin 80 23 22 11 45
T. Tatar 81 21 24 4 45
G. Nyquist 82 17 26 -2 43
J. Abdelkader 82 19 23 -16 42
M. Green 74 7 28 -6 35
B. Richards 68 10 18 4 28
D. Helm 77 13 13 -2 26
N. Kronwall 64 3 23 -21 26
 
GOALIES: W L OT Sv% GAA
P. Mrazek 27 16 6 .921 2.33
J. Howard 14 14 5 .906 2.80