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Seeking spark, Wings split up Datsyuk, Zetterberg

by Brian Hedger / NHL.com
DETROIT -- They've been paired together before and they've also been split up.

So, once again being broken up onto different lines is nothing new for Detroit Red Wings star forwards Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg -- who will each center a line in Thursday night's home game against the Calgary Flames (7:30 p.m.)

After starting the season against the Ottawa Senators on separate lines, Red Wings coach Mike Babcock decided to put the dynamic duo back together on the top line for the next nine games.

When they play together, Zetterberg technically moves to left wing and Datsyuk stays in the middle, but both share center responsibilities. Everything was going great until Detroit hit a rough patch after winning its first five games. The Wings (5-4-1) suddenly stopped scoring goals in bunches and are now riding a five-game winless streak that has them sitting 12th in the Western Conference.

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Something needed to change, and splitting his two stars up again seemed like a good a place to start for Babcock.

"Well, we've got five goals in five games, so I wouldn't say we've been difficult to defend," he said after Thursday's morning skate. "They've played together nine games and I don't think they could disagree. They love playing together, but in those nine games things haven't gone (well). We've got to find a way to get a win. It's a League you've got to win in or else you're out in a hurry."

What advantage does it give Detroit to have the two superstars playing on different lines?

Well, for starters it gives the Wings better depth. This way, teams can't put most of their defensive focus on slowing down just one superstar line to make the other three beat them.

"It makes it a little harder (for teams) to match up when you have them playing apart," Wings captain Nicklas Lidstrom told NHL.com on Thursday. "But when they do play together, usually they do play real well and they're hard to play against. It just adds some more depth to our team when you have them split up."

Zetterberg agreed.

"You're spreading it more out if me and Pavel are both playing center," Zetterberg told NHL.com. "That means (Valtteri Filppula) goes to the third line, so I would say that spreading it out is a good (way to say it)."

Datsyuk's line will now feature Jiri Hudler at left wing and Danny Cleary on the right, while Zetterberg will center wingers Johan Franzen and Todd Bertuzzi. He could still wind up sharing some of the center responsibilities, only this time with Franzen, who's comfortable in the faceoff circle and had previously centered the second line for a few games.

Either way, neither Zetterberg nor Datsyuk is worried about the move affecting their play.

"In the seven years we've been playing with each other, I think we've been apart more than we have been together," Zetterberg said. "It's not a big deal to us."

It might be to their opponents, though it's also a big deal for them just knowing both Detroit stars are on the ice in any capacity.

"They're both pretty remarkable players," said Calgary forward Lee Stempniak, who got a good look at both Zetterberg and Datsyuk in the past two playoffs while playing for the Phoenix Coyotes. "They have the ability to really take over shifts and dominate the play at times, so if they can do it individually you've certainly got to be more aware."

The split could also help some of the Wings' secondary stars who are struggling to get it going. Detroit is hoping skating with playmakers as talented as Datsyuk or Zetterberg can spark guys like Cleary, Bertuzzi and Hudler.

"They both just make the other guys on their lines that much better," Stempniak said of Datsyuk and Zetterberg. "(Splitting them up) makes it a little harder to defend them that way."
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