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Red Wings need to keep Zetterberg, Datsyuk in lineup

by Dan Rosen / NHL.com

NHL.com continues its preview of the 2014-15 season, which will include in-depth looks at all 30 teams throughout September.

The Detroit Red Wings have kept their streak of consecutive appearances in the Stanley Cup Playoffs alive despite debilitating injuries and the obvious infusion of younger players into the lineup in the past two seasons.

The Red Wings extended their streak to 23 straight playoff berths last season. To extend it to 24 they'll need the following three things to happen:

1. Zetterberg and Datsyuk must stay healthy -- It's somewhat foolish to think the Red Wings can play with fire twice without getting burned.

Pavel Datsyuk played in eight of the final 24 regular-season games after the Olympic break last season. Henrik Zetterberg didn't play in any of them. Detroit still played better than .500 hockey, going 13-8-3 to make the playoffs.

Detroit's young players aren't going to surprise anyone this season, so it'll be even harder for them to produce at the same clip they did in 2013-14. That means the Red Wings will need their veteran stars to be healthy and in the lineup, just like every team needs its best player, to make the playoffs.

The good news is Zetterberg said his back surgery was a success and his rehab this summer paid off, so he's 100 percent ready to go. Datsyuk proclaimed his oft-injured knee to be comfortable after a summer of rehab, but he reportedly sustained a shoulder injury in the Red Wings' preseason opener against the Pittsburgh Penguins on Monday night. He told the Detroit Free Press on Tuesday he will go for an MRI this week.

Datsyuk is 36 years old and Zetterberg will be 34 on Oct. 9. They've put a lot of mileage on their bodies in their NHL careers, but they're still elite players when healthy. Zetterberg had 48 points in 45 games last season; Datsyuk had 37 in 45, and was playing hurt a lot of the time.

2. The kids have to become adults -- Gustav Nyquist, Riley Sheahan, Tomas Jurco, Tomas Tatar, Luke Glendening, Danny DeKeyser, Brendan Smith and Brian Lashoff have to graduate to adult status this season. If coach Mike Babcock is still calling them kids in April, the Red Wings might be in trouble.

Their track record suggests they will improve and grow off last season.

Of the eight players mentioned above, all but Smith helped the Grand Rapids Griffins of the American Hockey League win the Calder Cup in 2013. They were minor leaguers preparing to be NHL players. A rash of injuries last season gave them a chance for extended ice time in stressful games. They delivered to help the Red Wings finish with 93 points.

Nyquist scored 28 goals in 57 games. Sheahan had 24 points in 42 games. Tatar scored 19 goals. Jurco scored eight goals in 36 games and showed Babcock that he has NHL speed and physical awareness. Babcock liked Glendening's game as a checking center. DeKeyser proved he can be a top-four defenseman. Lashoff gave Detroit depth and minutes when needed.

Expectations are higher now that they have proven they can play in the NHL.

3. Jimmy Howard must rebound -- Howard made the 2012 NHL All-Star Game and was the third goalie for the United States at the 2014 Sochi Olympics. He has a track record of success and five more years on a contract with an average annual value of $5.29 million, proof the Red Wings believe in him.

But Howard didn't deliver the goods on a consistent basis last season. He was 22nd in the League in wins (21), and among goalies with 30 or more games he was 26th in goals-against average (2.66) and 29th in save percentage (.910).

The Red Wings need Howard to play like he did in the two seasons prior to 2013-14. He had a .923 save percentage in 2012-13 and a .920 save percentage in the 2011-12 season. He had identical 2.13 goals-against averages in each season.

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