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Zidlicky's offensive game an X-factor for Detroit

by Paul Harris /

The ability of defenseman Marek Zidlicky to create offense from the blue line was well known when the Detroit Red Wings sent a conditional draft choice to the New Jersey Devils for him at the 2015 NHL Trade Deadline last month.

But Zidlicky, 38, has also shown in his time in Detroit that he doesn't shy away from physical play, despite being listed at 5-foot-11 and 190 pounds.

A prime example came in the Red Wings 2-1 los to the Washington Capitals at Joe Louis Arena on April 5.

Zidlicky took exception to the way that Washington forward Tom Wilson hit him along the boards and let Wilson and the referees know about it. It was a game where many of the bigger Capitals were banging the Red Wings around with body checks.

During the second period, after Wilson had cleared the puck into the Detroit end from the neutral zone, Zidlicky caught him with a hip check. The hit, which was deemed low by the referee, earned a two-minute clipping penalty for Zidlicky, but it also sent a message that he would not be an easy target.

Washington coach Barry Trotz coached Zidlicky when both were with the Nashville Predators from 2003-04 to 2007-08, the first four seasons of Zidlicky's NHL career. He wasn't surprised when Zidlicky responded physically, saying he had seen it repeatedly during their time together with the Predators.

A defenseman with a hard shot from the point who can pile up points and be physical when necessary is a valuable commodity in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

"He's got some grit to him, he doesn't mind cross-checking the odd guy," Detroit coach Mike Babcock said.

Zidlicky had also created offense, as expected. He had three goals and 10 points in his first 18 games with Detroit. He also made an immediate impact in his first game as a Red Wing, scoring the overtime winner in Detroit's 2-1 win against the New York Rangers

There are three things in particular that he has provided that have given the Red Wings other dimensions on their blue line.

The first is that he is a right-handed shot.

With the exception of Alexey Marchenko, who played a few games with Detroit after he was recalled from the Grand Rapids Griffins of the American Hockey League this season, the Red Wings had not had a right-handed shooting defenseman this season nor in 2013-14.

In fact, for most of the 2014-15 season, the only right shot on the team was forward Luke Glendening (the Wings now have three with Zidlicky, Glendening and forward Teemu Pulkkinen).

Detroit has been looking for a right-handed shooting defenseman since the retirement of Brian Rafalski after the 2010-11 season.

Babcock paired Zidlicky with Brendan Smith on the team's third defensive duo.

"Moves the puck good and he gives us another pair," Babcock said. "Him and [Brendan] are a real good pair for us, which is so important; they move the puck."

Zidlicky also brought a booming slap shot with him and joined a power play that was already at the top of the League.

Zidlicky regularly occupies the the left point on the power play, making himself available for one-timers off cross-ice passes from the right side of the ice.

"He can flat-out just shoot the puck, which is great, even to the point where he's got to shoot it more, on the power play especially," Babcock said after Zidlicky had a goal and two assists in a 5-1 win against the Pittsburgh Penguins at the Consol Energy Center on March 15.

Zidlicky also regularly roves deep into the offensive zone, even into the corners, to make plays and put pressure on the opposition. He does it a lot but never seems to get caught deep by an odd-man rush from the opposition.

"He always makes the right play. He's so calm. It's fun to play with him," said Henrik Zetterberg, the Detroit captain.

None of this is a surprise to goalie Petr Mrazek, who has played on the Czech Republic national team with Zidlicky in the past.

"I saw him with the national team a couple of times so I knew what I can expect from him," Mrazek said. "He's a great defenseman and he shoots well."

And playing with Zetterberg, Pavel Datsyuk, Gustav Nyquist, Tomas Tar, etc.. has also made Zidlicky better.

"It’s skill guys," Zidlicky said. "They’ve got great skill. It’s unbelievable how they handle the puck. They are strong with the puck and strong up front so that makes it easy for me."

The Red Wings may have slumped late in the season but having Zidlicky makes them a tougher team to play against in the playoffs.

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