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Wings may look to split Datsyuk, Zetterberg

by Brian Hedger /
DETROIT -- The Detroit Red Wings decided to split up star top-line forwards Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg, for practice at least.

As for Wednesday's Game 3 of Detroit's Western Conference Semifinal series against the San Jose Sharks at Joe Louis Arena, it's still up in the air about which Red Wings forwards will play together and which will sit out -- including Zetterberg and Datsyuk.

That's the official word, anyway, straight from the mouth of Detroit coach Mike Babcock -- who insisted after Tuesday's practice that nothing has been officially changed in his lineup despite several changes on display, including the big split between his two biggest stars.

"I haven't decided who's playing with who for tomorrow as of yet," Babcock said. "I haven't decided who's in either. All I know is (San Jose) won 4-1 last year and they're up 2-0 this year. By my math, that's 6-1. So the bottom line is we've got to win a game and we've got to win our next game. That's the way we're looking at it."

Others who like to speculate about potential lineup changes look at it a little differently. The Red Wings trail this series 2-0 and have scored just two goals.

Something might need to change in order to jump start Detroit's offense, and it could start with splitting Datsyuk and Zetterberg if the lines Babcock used in practice on Tuesday are close to what he's kicking around in his head.

Datsyuk worked with Johan Franzen and Mike Modano alternating rushes on his left and Tomas Holmstrom on the right, while Zetterberg centered the second line between Danny Cleary and Todd Bertuzzi. If that's the way it stays, Zetterberg and Datsyuk have no problem with it.

"If you go back the last two or three years, I think most of the time we've been apart," said Zetterberg, who missed Detroit's first-round sweep of the Phoenix Coyotes with what's believed to be a knee sprain. "It's nothing new for us. We're used to that."

Datsyuk added that he's been too passive in the first two games of this series regardless of who's on his line -- especially in contrast to the way he played against Phoenix, without Zetterberg in uniform. Datsyuk scored 2 goals and 6 points and was constantly a threat to offensively.

"I need to take more shots," said Datsyuk, who has set up both of Detroit's goals against San Jose with precise feeds to the slot from the side wall. "I'm too casual. Need more shots and go to the net."

Asked if his game changes when Zetterberg is healthy enough to play, Datsyuk disagreed.

"Not really," he said. "It's like, (Zetterberg) comes back and it's a big help for us, but it's not about me or something. Everybody need more shoot and go to net. Make it harder for them."

Zetterberg, who said he felt much better health-wise in Game 2 than in Game 1, couldn't agree more. He said if the Wings are going to climb out of the hole they're in, it's going to take a team effort to pot more goals from guys like himself, Datsyuk, Cleary, Valtteri Filppula and Franzen -- who is battling a nagging ankle injury that happened in the second game against Phoenix.

"We need goals and we need it from everyone," Zetterberg said. "If you look at the first series, I think we had 12 different goal scorers and you need to have that, especially playing a team like San Jose. You have to score goals. Everyone's got to put more pucks on the net and be more determined when we've got the chances."

Being more determined, hanging onto the puck in San Jose's zone and making life harder on Sharks goalie Antti Niemi were common themes in the Detroit locker room, along with the potential breakup of Zetterberg and Datsyuk.

Reporters weren't the only ones who noticed it, either. Sharks coach Todd McLellan also shuffled his top two lines at Tuesday's practice and said it was in anticipation of Detroit's changes.

"We'll see," McLellan said. "I think Detroit will make some changes with their lines. They've got a couple veteran players that have played in these situations before. They may be in the lineup. We've got to be prepared to react and be ready to go any way. We're not sure what we're doing yet. We'll wait and see."

They also have a good amount of experience playing against the Red Wings to aid their defensive effort -- including Detroit's "Big Two" playing together and apart.

"Pick your poison," Sharks defenseman Douglas Murray said. "Do you want to have them both out there at the same time or at different times? They've done both things against us and we've been able to handle both and they've also been successful doing both things. It's from game to game. We've seen the different looks plenty of times, because we've played them so much the last couple years. Sometimes it works out for your team and sometimes it doesn't."

Murray also pointed to what both Zetterberg and Datsyuk did while playing together in the first two games and wondered why it's become such a big issue heading into Game 3.

"It's been really tight games, and let's be honest, they've created scoring chances," he said. "It's not like they have not been dangerous in the series so far. Pav has been involved in both goals, they've hit a couple of posts and (Antti Niemi) made some great saves. It's not like we completely stalled them."

Still, it's also not like Detroit was overwhelmingly good on offense. The Red Wings often got the puck into the offensive zone and then watched it head back the other way after just one shot or no shots.

Maybe shifting up the forward lines is just the jolt they need to get back to their puck-control game. Detroit also had veteran "Grind Line" forward Kris Draper working on the fourth line with Darren Helm and Patrick Eaves on Tuesday, but Babcock said the final call will be made on Wednesday.

"We're trying to find something here to maybe generate a little more offense," Cleary said. "That's got to be our focus (in Game 3). We've got a team that's built on good depth. You've got to find that and get back to playing the way we can. It's tight now. It's a tight series. We've got to try to find a way."
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