The Detroit Red Wings forward now has just ten goals through 56 games, after finding the back of the net Wednesday night against the Edmonton Oilers, and the whispers about it are getting louder outside the locker room. More often, fans and media alike have the same question in mind: What's wrong with Zetterberg?
SOG: 168 | +/-: 6
"I'm way past the frustration part or the thinking part," Zetterberg told NHL.com after Wednesday's morning skate. "Now, I've just got to play. I've got to go out and play every game and not look at the stats and think, 'Oh, what if I do this or what if I do that? Maybe I will have a good year again.' You just go out and play the best you can."
Statistically speaking, that's exactly what the Swedish star forward is doing. He's played center on Detroit's second line for most of the season – rather than left wing on the top line with center Pavel Datsyuk – and his assist total of 30 is right in line with expectations.
Also good are the goal numbers of his wingers on that second line.
Valtteri Filppula (16 goals and 26 assists) is having a career year playing left wing instead of center, and right wing Jiri Hudler (17 goals and 17 assists) has nearly doubled the 10 goals that he scored in 73 games last season. That could all be looked upon as evidence that Zetterberg is merely doing his job as a playmaking center – distributing the puck and setting his teammates up for goals.
"Yeah, but I should have more than nine goals," Zetterberg told NHL.com. "That's … that's … you can't say anything but that. I should have more than that. You can't just go and hide. You've got to keep playing and do your best."
Zetterberg isn't running away from it, that's for sure.
He's also not pretending there is nothing wrong when he hasn't scored a goal in nine games and has only found the back of the net once in the past 23 contests. It's not his style, not in his makeup, to cower -- and not allowed, at least in his mind, when you wear an "A" on your sweater for the Red Wings, the only NHL team he has ever played for.
Think Zetterberg is underperforming, especially for a guy with a salary-cap hit of roughly $6 million a season for the next six years?
He'd agree with you.
"I think so too," Zetterberg told NHL.com. "It's just that scoring goals is way down. Assists are there. It's something you don't want to have. You want to score, but I had a real tough start. The first 25 games were bad and I've felt better since then, but I can't really find a way to score goals."
Looking at his career path, it's not just a one-year blip for the 31-year old forward.
Since scoring 43 goals in 75 games in 2008, Zetterberg's goal totals have dipped. He scored 31 times in 2009, racked up 23 markers in 2010 and potted 24 last season. Now, he's saddled with nine well past the season's midway point – including just one on the power play.
The bright side is that he's playing for a team that's again fighting for the top spot in the League, Western Conference and Central Division standings. The goals might not be there, but the guy whom the Wings call "Hank" and "Z" is still creating offense. That's what Red Wings coach Mike Babcock sees, especially of late.
Of course, Babcock also sees the frustration building up in his star forward as games have turned into weeks that have flown by without Zetterberg's usual scoring prowess.
Still, Babcock said a better measure of Zetterberg's impact is in the team's point total – which was a League-high 72 prior to Wednesday's game.
"Would he like to have 40 (goals)? Absolutely," Babcock said. "But he doesn't. So, let's just keep winning. That's the big thing for me. He's here for the same thing as the rest of us. It's called winning.Those personal stats, I don't think there's one guy in the room who spends a whole lot of time worrying about it. It's nice to have them, but that's not the measure here for our group. Our group is about winning, and we're trying to win."
Zetterberg feels the same way.
"We're on top in the League, and I can't be that disappointed," he told NHL.com. "You've got to find a way to help the team. If you can't really score goals, then you've got to do other stuff and it will turn around. It will come. It always evens out, so I'm not that depressed."