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Zetterberg is back on par

by Bill Roose / Detroit Red Wings

A healthy Henrik Zetterberg leads the Red Wings with 31 assists, 46 points and 153 shots on goal. (Photo by Getty Images)

DENVER – Like many who have gone under the knife, the first time can be unsettling for the patient. So when Henrik Zetterberg needed back surgery 12 months ago he understandably was feeling apprehensive.

However, it wasn’t like the Red Wings’ captain had another choice. The herniated disk in his lower back wasn’t going away on its own, neither was the nerve pain that radiated down his left leg.

“I’d never been through a surgery before so I didn’t know what to expect,” Zetterberg said. “Obviously, the rehab is really important to get that right and I feel good now. I play a physical sport. You never know what could happen.”

So far, so good for Zetterberg, who is among nine Red Wings who have played in every game this season. His scoring level is back on par to previous seasons – Detroit is 21-4-4 when Zetterberg registers a point – and his leadership and importance to this team, on the ice and in the locker room, remain immeasurable assets.

Through 50 games, Zetterberg leads the Wings in assists (31), points (46) and shots on goal (153). He leads team forwards in minutes played per game (19:15) and his 15 goals is tied with center Pavel Datsyuk for third on the team.

Since New Year’s Eve, Zetterberg has produced 14 points in 13 games, sparking the Red Wings to a 10-3-0 record in that span as the franchise pushes toward a 24th consecutive postseason berth.

“You look at our team now, I think we're a way better team,” forward Gustav Nyquist said. “It's pretty much the same team, but we have our leader back. He's the one that gets us ready for games. He's the one that leads us every single night. He brings it every night. The way he's performed all throughout the season he's been our best player arguably.”

Despite taking an occasional maintenance day, the 34-year-old Zetterberg hasn’t had issues with the back since his Feb. 21 surgery performed by Dr. Frank Cammisa in New York City.

“Nothing in my back,” said Zetterberg, who return to practice Wednesday at Denver’s Pepsi Center, where the Red Wings will face-off against the Colorado Avalanche tonight.

The Red Wings had four off days since their 4-1 win over the New York Islanders last Saturday. The team did not skate Sunday or Monday, and Zetterberg stayed off the ice again on Tuesday.

“Just had a little other issue going on,” he added. “But when we had those extra days I could take advantage of it. I was happy to be out there again. It felt good and I’m planning on playing (tonight).”

That’s great news for the Red Wings, who have 67 points, tied for second place with Montreal, two points behind Atlantic Division-leading Tampa Bay.

Zetterberg was forced to bow out of last February’s Sochi Olympics when it became painfully obvious that no amount of medication of rehabilitation would overcome the bulging disk. He returned in the Stanley Cup playoffs, but clearly wasn’t 100 percent.

Several of his Swedish teammates, including Niklas Kronwall, witnessed first-hand what their friend went through last year just to get to the operating table.

“That was no fun,” Kronwall said. “That was one of the more painful things that I’ve seen a friend go through. To watch for a few days before he was able to even get on a plane it was painful. Knowing how strong and how tough he is it was bad.”

The surgery was just one aspect of Zetterberg’s recovery. He understands that and takes simple measures every day to strength his core muscles to help prevent a reoccurring episode.

“Obviously last year I just want to scratch from the memory bank,” he said. “This year coming in I didn’t really know how to feel. It’s been going OK. I’ve been skating well. I’ve been feeling good health-wise, also been playing with some fun linemates, young guys that kind of keep me feeling a little younger.”

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