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Pavel Datsyuk picked a perfect time to emerge as one of the NHL's most dangerous offensive players.
Detroit beat the Florida Panthers 4-1 at home Monday night to maintain a small lead in the Central Division. The Wings, 4-0-0-1 in their last five, are rolling despite a nightmarish rash of injuries that has landed 11 players on injured reserve.
No player is more responsible for Detroit's unlikely surge than Datsyuk, who scored his seventh goal in five games and added an assist against the Panthers.
Datsyuk, selected Monday as NHL offensive player of the week, has five assists in his last five games and is among the NHL leaders with 39 points and 18 goals. He has been the catalyst for the NHL's best offensive club, which easily leads the NHL with 116 goals.
Against Florida, Datsyuk opened the scoring 6:34 in when his backhand shot from the slot beat Roberto Luongo high to the glove side. Datsyuk took a pass on his forehand, spun around and put in the backhander.
"This guy has just gotten more and more confident," Red Wings defenseman Mathieu Schneider said. "And on an everyday basis, he's amazing us."
Detroit needs Datsyuk more than ever. Forwards Steve Yzerman and Ray Whitney and defenseman Mathieu Dandenault were out of the Wings' lineup Monday, and the Wings have also had to make do without regulars such as goalie Dominik Hasek, forwards Henrik Zetterberg, Tomas Holmstrom and Darren McCarty, and defenseman Chris Chelios.
Curtis Joseph stopped 21 shots for Detroit in his fourth straight start.
The Wings will be facing a Sharks team that jumped into the Pacific Division race after getting things turned around in the last month. San Jose went on a five-game winning streak starting Nov. 21 and is 7-2-2 in its last 11.
Evgeni Nabokov stopped 28 shots for his second shutout of the season, and Alex Korolyuk scored the winning goal as the Sharks beat Anaheim 2-0 on Saturday night.
Nabokov made his second start following a three-week absence with a groin injury. He made several big saves in the third period, holding on for his 19th career shutout -- his first since a 0-0 tie with Philadelphia on Oct. 16.
"He didn't make any mistakes," coach Ron Wilson said of Nabokov, who took an unsuccessful shot at the Mighty Ducks' empty net with 45 seconds left. "He handled the puck really well -- and he should have scored."
Wilson said he plans to rotate Nabokov with impressive backup Vesa Toskala for the foreseeable future.
The Sharks, 4-0-4 in their last eight home games, will be tested over the next three weeks. They play eight of the next 11 on the road, including two games at St. Louis and one at Vancouver in addition to Tuesday's game at Joe Louis.