– Even in his rookie season, the Red Wings knew they had something special in Pavel Datsyuk
. It was during the 2001-02 season when the young Russian raised eyebrows skating between Brett Hull and Boyd Deveraux – a line known as Two Kids and a Goat.
The unflattering name was coined by Hull (The Goat), who tabbed the other two as the Kids. Even then coaches wanted Datsyuk to shoot the puck more.
And that’s what the Wings got out of their Russian super sniper on Wednesday. Datsyuk fired a season-high eight shots at Coyotes goalie Ilya Bryzgalov, scoring once in the 4-2 victory that gave the Wings a 1-0 lead in their best-of-seven Western Conference quarterfinals series.
Only five times – including twice in the playoffs – has Datsyuk registered eight or more shots in a game during his nine NHL seasons. But it's been more than two years since he fired as many shots in a game, last doing so in a 3-2 win over Philadelphia in March 2009. IN that game he had a goal and an assist.
Wings captain Nicklas Lidstrom
sees Datsyuk’s contributions as a big advantage.
“Pav taking a lot of shots is what we want, he’s got a good shot,” Lidstrom said. “It’s a lot harder to defend him when he’s shooting more and if you step-up on him he can stick handle through you.”
Datsyuk’s numbers are telling. In 111 career playoff games, he has averaged 2.5 shots per game. During the regular-season, he has averaged 2.2 shots/game.
“I just know that when Pav has the puck lots, we’re a better team, and when he has the puck we’re not playing defense, and we feel better about ourselves,” Wings coach Mike Babcock said. “Any time a guy gets eight shots on net, he must have done something right. He’s an elite, elite player each and every night.”
Lidstrom, who won the Conn Smythe Trophy in Datsyuk’s rookie season, has admired his teammate’s development and seen him become more comfortable as a world-class player.
“I think he feels more comfortable now than when he first came into the league,” Lidstrom said. “He’s one of the leaders in the locker room as an assistant captain and he brings a lot to our team, not only on the ice, but off the ice as well.”
From the other end of the ice, goalie Jimmy Howard
gets a different perspective each night of Datsyuk’s magic.
“He amazes us every single game,” Howard said. “I mean he does it in practice and in games. Like the game in Chicago where he stick-handled through four guys. … I’m just thankful he’s on my team.”
Asked if he ever felt sorry for opposing goalies tasked with stopping the Russian star, Lidstrom said, “I don’t think I feel sorry for them. It’s more of a fun thing for us when he’s on top of his game. It’s hard to take the puck away from him and he can take it hard to the net, too, like he showed last night. He’s not known for taking a lot of shots, but I think he had eight last night, so that’s encouraging to see. … He’s hard to play against when he plays like that.”