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Datsyuk departure makes life easier for NHL goalies

Detroit forward spent his career tormenting many of them

by Kevin Woodley / Correspondent

VANCOUVER -- If there is one group in the NHL that won't be sad to see Pavel Datsyuk leaving, it's the goaltenders he tortured and toyed with during his 14 seasons with the Detroit Red Wings.

"Especially that he's in our division," Florida Panthers goalie Roberto Luongo said with a laugh.

Datsyuk announced Saturday he was leaving the NHL to play in Russia.

He scored 314 goals in 953 regular-season games with Detroit, and many goals ended up as staples of top-10 highlights on sports shows. Going against Datsyuk on a breakaway or shootout often ended in the hockey equivalent of being "posterized." 

"I recall one week where they did the top-10 goals in the NHL and I was in two or three of them and Datsyuk scored all of them … in the same week," said Dan Ellis, who saw a lot of Datsyuk during his three seasons with the Nashville Predators from 2007-10, when both teams were in the Central Division. "Going up against him in a shootout you knew you were about to be embarrassed."

Datsyuk could get into a goalie's head before he even shot the puck.

"When he is coming down you are almost nervous because you have seen him destroy guys," said Alex Auld, who stopped Datsyuk the only time he faced him in a shootout during his 10-season NHL career. "I was almost disappointed he didn't pull one of his 'A' moves on me."

Marty Turco wasn't as fortunate.

Turco was the first victim of a Datsyuk breakaway move now copied all over the world. Datsyuk was sent in alone late in the third period against the Dallas Stars on Nov. 12, 2003, and got Turco to bite on a fake to his forehand before toe-dragging the puck back behind him while cutting right with only his left skate on the ice, and lifting the puck into the open net.

"I like my ability to read guys, but he did that and I couldn't wait to jump in the corner like a fool," Turco said. "He was just so silky and so deft in his movements. You couldn't get a read on him. He was all-world. But at least I was the first one. I told the other guys, I don't know how they fell for it afterwards."

Even when they didn't fall for that move, Datsyuk had the ability to make goalies look silly. When Antti Niemi, then with the Chicago Blackhawks, managed to stick with the same move during a shootout Jan. 17, 2010, Datsyuk simply flipped the puck softly back over the goalie's other shoulder instead, arcing it agonizingly over his flailing blocker. Niemi could only watch as it trickled into the net.

It was one of many moves Datsyuk used to torment goalies during his NHL career. Ellis had a front-row seat for a couple more just like it against his Predators teammate, Tomas Vokoun.

"They called him The Magic Man for a reason," said Ellis, who spent this season with Hershey, the Washington Capitals' American Hockey League affiliate. "He was a magician with the puck and you just never could get a read on him and try to figure out what he was going to do. It's hard to explain but everything he did just seemed so effortless, and he was so creative with puck and so smooth that you really didn't ever know when it was coming."

Goaltenders weren't the only victims of Datsyuk's dizzying puck skills.

"Defensemen will also be thankful he's not in the League anymore," Ellis said. "There's quite a few that he deked out of their shorts before even getting to the goaltender."

The goalies said it was Datsyuk's ability to shoot from any position that made him so hard to stop. Where most players give their intent away by having to load up before being able to get a shot off, Datsyuk could look like he was going to pass or make a move at full speed only to instead shoot the puck without any delay or sign it was coming.

"He was so smooth when he had the puck on his stick that it was tough to pick up his shot sometimes," Luongo said. "You couldn't read where it was going."

Goalies couldn't relax with Datsyuk on the ice either, even with the puck on a teammate's stick. There's a reason he won the Selke Trophy three times as the best defensive forward in the NHL. 

"The puck is never safe when he is on the ice," Auld said. "The way he could pick a pocket and turn it into a scoring chance so fast, I don't think anyone has ever been like that."

That defensive work ethic, deceptive shot and passing skills often left goalies guessing.

"He could fire that thing wherever," said Turco, who retired in 2012 after 11 seasons and now works as director of corporate development for the Stars. "He could shoot it quick and hard and accurate but also pass it, and he was so strong on his feet that he never really had to get into a shooting position; he was already there. He was just super-accurate and he had my number."

Datsyuk had a lot of goalies' numbers. 

"He was a treat to watch," Turco said. "Don't ever ask anybody to try and replace that guy."

For the goaltenders still playing, it's hard to imagine anyone will. 

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