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Wings may unite Datzyuk, Zetterberg vs. Devils

Saturday, 12.05.2009 / 2:28 PM / NHL Insider

By Mike G. Morreale - NHL.com Staff Writer

NEWARK, N.J.  -- What better way to jump-start a sagging offense than to have Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg on the same line?

It could happen Saturday when the Detroit Red Wings, who have scored just nine goals in their last six games (2-4), face off against the New Jersey Devils at Prudential Center. Wings coach Mike Babcock had Datsyuk and Zetterberg skating together during his team's morning skate. In recent games, Datsyuk has been centering Ville Leino and Tomas Holmstrom, while Zetterberg has been between Todd Bertuzzi and Dan Cleary.

"That's how they warmed up and we'll go from there," said Babcock, who was still noncommittal. "All we're trying to do is help our team win, so if that's the best way to help us win, that's what we'll do. We think Pavel is one of the best players in the League and all of us are in a battle of 'We're barely hanging on and we have to get better.' So right now, we're just trying to jump start our offense and that's why I had them together (on Friday in practice) and (Saturday)."

The Devils, who are getting healthier by the day, are flying high with 18 wins and 37 points through 26 games -- good enough for fourth in the Eastern Conference. The Wings, however, have struggled to find their collective groove with 13 wins and 30 points in 27 games -- 11th in the Western Conference.

"The toughest thing through all this is the fact we haven't been able to score and get some goals," Red Wings captain Nicklas Lidstrom said. "I think that's been frustrating, but the guys have been taking good shots and that's something we'll have to continue."

It hasn't helped that the Wings have been playing without a full lineup for much of the season.

On the mend are defensemen Brian Rafalski (back, out), Niklas Kronwall (sprained left medial collateral ligament, out) and Andreas Lilja (concussion, injured reserve) and forwards Jason Williams (fractured right fibula, out), Valtteri Filppula (broken wrist, out) and Johan Franzen (torn left anterior cruciate ligament, out). Rafalski, who played seven seasons with the Devils before exchanging zip codes in 2007-08, is disappointed he'll miss the matchup against his former employer.

Fact is, no coach or team likes to use injuries as an excuse, but have these untimely ailments have been too much too overcome?

"You don't use injuries as an excuse because there are a number of teams going through this same sort of thing," defenseman Brad Stuart said. "The teams that do use it as an excuse are the ones who are going to fall by the way-side and fall out of the playoff picture. We're not about giving excuses, we look at it as a little bit of adversity and that can make a team stronger in the end. That's how we have to approach it."

"The big thing with injuries is 'What are you going to do about it?" Babcock said. "You have to play as hard and simple as you can each night. Players getting to play more are going to be better players for it and we're going to be a better team for it, long term. There's no sense feeling sorry for yourself because, really, no one in the League is going to feel sorry for you."

Accentuating the problem is the fact those players in the lineup haven't been able to pick up the slack. There's Datsyuk (6 goals in 25 games), Leino (3 goals in 26 games), Cleary (6 goals in 27 games) and Bertuzzi (4 goals in 27 games) -- a collective minus-13 for the season. Additionally, the team's penalty-killing unit ranks 26th in the League (76.9 percent) while producing just one shorthanded goal (Kirk Maltby).

"I think we need to shoot more and be more aggressive in offensive zone," Datsyuk said. "But every game we play better but it's like we have diesel (fuel) now. Hopefully, soon, we just put in gas and figure out everything."

Lidstrom, who hasn't scored fewer than 38 points in any of his previous 13 seasons, has accrued just nine through 27 contests in 2009-10. He's actually gone 24 games without scoring a goal and has just two points in the last nine.

"It's been a little frustrating but it's something you try to build on and get better at it," Lidstrom said. "As a team, we haven't played as well and I think I can do a better job as a player. We're trying to get more shots through and I'm trying to make the right plays out there."

Babcock knows it's only a matter of time.

"I've never seen (Lidstrom) get frustrated -- he just plays," Babcock said. "He's been excellent for us, as always. Would he like to bomb one over someone's shoulder (Saturday night), absolutely. Scoring is contagious."

"All we're trying to do is help our team win, so if that's the best way to help us win, that's what we'll do. We think Pavel is one of the best players in the League and all of us are in a battle of 'We're barely hanging on and we have to get better.' So right now, we're just trying to jump start our offense and that's why I had them together (on Friday in practice) and (Saturday)." -- Mike Babcock
The six-time Norris Trophy-winning defenseman went a career-high 48 games without celebrating a goal in 1992-93 -- his second season in the League. He'd finished that year with 7 goals and 41 points.

The Wings are coming off an embarrassing 4-1 setback to the Edmonton Oilers on Thursday at Joe Louis Arena -- their fourth loss in six games. Babcock admitted it was the "worst game since we played in Buffalo (a 6-2 loss in Buffalo on Oct. 13)."

It isn't often you hear coach Mike Babcock admitting his team was getting beat up ice or getting outworked, but that was the case against the Oilers.

"It was the worst hockey game we've played in a long, long time," he said.

"We're not pointing fingers at anybody," Stuart said. "We need a better offensive effort from the whole team and offense has been a little bit scarce for us at times this year but at the same time, it's forced us to be a little bit better defensively than we were last year which is a good thing. The key for us is not to be frustrated and it'll pay off."

Contact Mike Morreale at mmorreale@nhl.com


Quote of the Day

Obviously a lot happened in a short period of time. At the end of the day, considering everything I went through, I really felt close to my teammates and I really feel like what we accomplished, I know we didn't win it all. ... I'm really proud of how we got there and what we did once we got there.

— Rangers forward Martin St. Louis to Jim Cerny of BlueshirtsUnited.com