There’s a buzz that Pavel Datsyuk might return to the ice tonight. Good. He can bring an oxygen tank for Henrik Zetterberg.
No one has felt Datsyuk’s absence more than Zetterberg, who is left to be 1) the blanket over Sidney Crosby, 2) the magic man of playmaking, 3) an integral part of the power play and penalty kill and 4) the inspirational youthful leader in the locker room.
After that, he cures world hunger.
I’m surprised he hasn’t changed it to Zzzzzzzzetterberg.
“Hey,” he said, laughing Wednesday, “I’m just happy to get the ice time.”
Ice time is not the issue. In fact, Hank is one of the few guys who might give back some ice time. He has been playing marathon minutes and marathon shifts – 24:19 minutes and 31 shifts in Tuesday night’s 4-2 Game 3 loss at Pittsburgh. Every time Crosby thinks about jumping the boards, Zetterberg is halfway over. Actually, his beard goes over first. A second later, he follows.
“Yeah, basically that’s what we’ve been doing,” Zetterberg admitted of his glove-like approach to Crosby. “He’s a very skilled guy. He works real hard; that’s the toughest part. You have to match his intensity. You have to be on the right side all the time. But I get good help from Mule (Johan Franzen) and Dan Cleary.”
And maybe a triple espresso.
Struggling to kill penalties
Now, it’s hard enough to ask Zetterberg to be Peter Pan’s shadow. But the Red Wings without Datsyuk – and with Marian Hossa spinning more than he’s scoring – need Zetterberg for offense as well. He scored the first goal Tuesday night and set up Franzen for the second. To this point, you’d have to say Zetterberg has outplayed Crosby.
But you might have to wake him to say it.
“Doesn’t your offense suffer when you have to expend all that energy chasing Sidney?” I asked.
“Well, it’s harder if you don’t start with the puck and are chasing it for half a minute,” he said. “It goes a lot easier if you win the face-off and have possession.”
What he means is, it’s easier to have possession when you have the same number of skaters as the other team. Forget the ridiculous six men on the ice stretch for Pittsburgh that went unnoticed by the refs in Game 3. It was the penalty killing that did the Wings in. They couldn’t get out of their own end.
“Yeah, that’s the thing,” Zetterberg said. “The whole year we’ve been struggling with the penalty kill. At the end of season, we got a lot better, but still in the playoffs almost every game we’ve been letting one in. Also, you can’t forget we’re playing good players. Â If they’re in your end for a long time, they will find a way to score.”
I likened it to a pinball. Eventually, as long as the machine is tilted down, no matter how much you hit the flippers, that ball is gonna drop.
Zetterberg laughed. “Good comparison.”
And then he nodded off.
A battle of the superstars
No. That was just to see if you’re paying attention. Actually, Zetterberg was surprisingly upbeat, considering the Wings blew a great chance to stuff the Penguins and ensure a Cup the night before. But then, Zetterberg is pretty unflappable. Here’s a guy who is a far bigger star in Sweden than Crosby is in America, yet he willingly and without comment slips into a defensive posture on the NHL’s biggest stage. It’s as if Kobe told LeBron, “You do the dunks and stuff, I’m just going to try to stop you.”
Zetterberg deserves double credit for what he has done without Datsyuk to help shoulder the load. These two are the Mick and Keith of the Wings. Life would be much easier – especially on the power plays – if No. 40 could see No. 13 out there.
“Yeah, we really miss Pav,” he said. “If he plays that will be a huge help.”
Last year, Zetterberg led the Wings to the Stanley Cup, and was rewarded with the playoff MVP trophy. So far, Chris Osgood leads this year’s conversation, but I have a feeling before this series is over, Mr. Zzzzzz will be right in there.
And if he should win it, they ought to put a few asterisks alongside.
* did it without Datsyuk.
* did it with a nine-pound beard.
Contact MITCH ALBOM: 313-223-4581 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Catch “The Mitch Albom Show” 5-7 p.m. weekdays on WJR-AM (760). Also catch “Monday Sports Albom” 7-8 p.m. Mondays on WJR. To read his recent columns, go to www.freep.com/mitch.