TAMPA, Fla. – For the superstitious types, 13 is an unlucky number. For a perennial goal scorer, 13 isn’t the digit you want to see in your goal column at the end of the season, either.
Red Wings captain Henrik Zetterberg potted 13 pucks in the back of opposing nets this season. It’s the lowest total of his career in a season not affected by a league lockout.
Zetterberg finished the regular season without a goal over the last 11 games and only produced one in the final 24 games. That was a game-winner at Columbus on March 17.
Eight times in his 13-season career, Zetterberg has registered greater than 20 goals in a campaign. But this year has been inexplicably difficult for him to obtain the 20-goal threshold despite playing in every regular-season game for just the second time in his career.
“Yeah, it would be nice to get a few,” said Zetterberg, as he tried to come up with an answer to why he believes he’s struggled to score.
“I’ve been getting some chances, you just got to put the puck behind the goaltender,” he added. “That’s the big issue so far.”
In recent years, the playoffs have been kind of a dead zone for not only Zetterberg (two goals in last 16 playoff games), but a few of his teammates as well. Forwards Gustav Nyquist (two goals in 24 games), Justin Abdelkader (no goals in 16 games) and Darren Helm (no goals in 14 games) have also struggled.
The Wings are expected to begin the playoffs by reuniting Zetterberg with his Euro Twin, Pavel Datsyuk, for Game 1 of the Red Wings’ opening-round series against the Tampa Bay Lightning tonight at Amalie Arena.
During stretches of the season, coach Jeff Blashill felt comfortable playing the two veterans together but mainly at home. However, the playoffs present a different element and the coach hopes the pair can create some immediate chemistry that will create more scoring.
“In the end those two guys play well off of each other,” Blashill said. “They think the game very similar. They play the game very similar. I think today’s hockey has become very much north south but they’re two guys who still like to play east to west. So when they’re together, it might accentuate their positives a little better. The decision I always have to make is that the right thing for the hockey team in its entirety. Right now we’ve made the decision that it’s the right thing to start here most likely in Game 1.”
As for Zetterberg’s alarming drought, Blashill says the captain is still getting his share of scoring chances, which is probably more than more two-way centers in the league.
“When I see anybody that hasn’t produced to the level that you expect them to is I go back and look at our scoring chances and how many scoring chances they’re actually creating and what the plus/minus is on their scoring chances,” Blashill said. “When I went back over the last 20 games, his scoring chances have been very good. He hasn’t really dropped off that much from the previous 20 games prior to that or really throughout the season. You’re always going to have a little ebb and flow on that. I see him still playing at a high level. He’s got tons of responsibility. He’s had to play against a lot of the other teams’ best players, which is not an easy task. I just think if he keeps playing the same game, the production will come.”