Detroit Red Wings center Henrik Zetterberg's cranky groin responds when he wakes up Tuesday morning will be a telltale sign as to how ready the Swedish star is to play in Wednesday's final preseason game in Karlstad.STOCKHOLM -- How
Zetterberg has not appeared in any of Detroit's eight preseason games, but he sounded optimistic following Monday afternoon's spirited 45-minute practice that was intended to get some of the jet lag out of the Red Wings' legs following their overnight flight.
Since Zetterberg wants so badly to play against Farjestads BK, the local Swedish Elite League team, you get the feeling that if he's even remotely OK he will give the thumbs up to coach Mike Babcock.
"This is the best I've felt since it happened, so it's positive," said Zetterberg, who tweaked his groin prior to training camp and has been fighting the nagging injury ever since. "As always, we'll see how it reacts to this and go for more tomorrow. I think this is pretty much the best I could do after a red-eye flight from Detroit."
Zetterberg's linemate, Dan Cleary, didn't see any kinks in Zetterberg's game, saying the sensational Swede "looked better than normal, which is amazing."
"He hasn't been on the ice in I don't know how long and then for him to look better than normal?" Cleary continued. "Only a few players can be pulling stuff like that."
Zetterberg, though, might have to pull off a minor miracle to get up to speed before Friday night's season opener against St. Louis at the Ericsson Globe. As Babcock noted, missing preseason games sets back even the great ones like Zetterberg.
"There is no switch that gets these guys to the level," Babcock said. "If you haven't skated then you haven't skated. If they get to the game and the game is racing 100 miles per hour and they can't keep up, that's because you haven't been in training camp. It doesn't matter how good the player is because missing training camp makes a great player good and it makes a good player average."
Zetterberg, hardly average at anything he does on the ice, is obviously key to the Wings' success, both here in Stockholm and back home for the rest of the 80 regular-season games.
He's slated to start the season flanking Cleary and Todd Bertuzzi at even strength and on the power play, but Babcock noted after Sunday's game against Pittsburgh that Zetterberg's line is way behind the other scoring line and power play trio -- Pavel Datsyuk, Johan Franzen and Tomas Holmstrom.
Cleary has played in only two of the eight preseason games and Bertuzzi has skated in just three of them. Babcock thought all three were going to play against the Penguins, but it turns out none of the three actually did.
They all think it's essential that Zetterberg plays Wednesday in Karlstad just so the line can get some familiarity in a real game situation.
"I have a lot of familiarity with 'Z,' so for me it's not going to be a problem, but the thing is 'Z' really finding 'Bert' and that chemistry," Cleary said. "For him and 'Bert' to find their way around each other, where they're going to be, what they like to do, where they like to shoot from, you would like to have a game like Wednesday. It's a good tune-up to get us going because come Friday, here we go."
Zetterberg said he will play, provided he wakes up feeling good and has another strong skate Tuesday. Even though Cleary doesn't think his center is too far behind, Zetterberg is fully aware of how much catching up he has to do.
"Players have been skating and playing games, so they look ready to go but I haven't played yet," he said. "It would be nice to get a game in before everything starts."
Perhaps Babcock thinks this trip to Sweden will magically heal Zetterberg's groin.
"He's looked good many a time," the coach said, "but, you know, he gets back to Sweden and maybe he smells that fresh air or something like that and it'll make him feel better."
The Wings are counting on it.