Pavel Datsyuk has four goals and nine shots in his last four games. (David Guralnick / The Detroit News)
Detroit — No question, the Red Wings are playing better hockey. They have for the last five games, all victories, since an embarrassing loss at home to Nashville.
There are reasons the victories have been piling up. The work ethic coach Mike Babcock demands has been apparent. Team defense has tightened up. The Wings are getting injured players back on the ice.
But the return of one player has improved the Red Wings more than anything else.
"We got better when Pavel came back," said Babcock after Sunday's 2-1 shootout victory in Minnesota. "Let's not kid ourselves; it really helps when he's back."
Datsyuk actually returned from a fractured right hand two games before the win streak began. He was part of the debacle against Nashville. But he was still getting up to speed.
Consider Datsyuk now back to his normal self. In the five-game win streak, Datsyuk has seven points (four goals, three assists). He's back to playing Selke Trophy-winning defense, he won five-of-seven face-offs against Minnesota, he provides a calming leadership role, and he makes players around him better.
Consider new linemates Jiri Hudler and Danny Cleary. The two have combined for 17 points since skating on the same line as Datsyuk.
"Anybody who plays with Pavel has good chemistry," Cleary says. "Give him the puck and try to get open."
While the Wings are playing better, they should be even better in the days ahead with Mike Modano (lacerated right wrist) and Valtteri Filppula (sprained left knee) returning this week.
"When everyone comes back, we'll have a real good, deep team," Babcock said.
But, mostly, the Wings are better now because Pavel Datsyuk is on the ice again.
Bertuzzi goes Wild
Opposing fans generally single out Todd Bertuzzi for any dislike they have against the Red Wings.
During the past three games — at Tampa Bay, Florida and Minnesota — whatever non-Wings fans there were (and there weren't many) jeered Bertuzzi whenever he touched the puck.
So, it was an added bonus for Bertuzzi on Sunday when he was able to secure the Wings' victory with the game-clinching goal in the shootout.
Wild fans, in particular, love to hate Bertuzzi.
"No better place to get the two points and also score," Bertuzzi said. "It's always a great atmosphere, every time we come here. It's always a good game with the fans."
New line on tap
Babcock said after Sunday's victory he'll pair Filppula and Modano, when they return, with Tomas Holmstrom, creating a whole new line.
It's an intriguing mix, to be sure.
Said Babcock, "That'll be another real good line — two guys (Filppula and Modano) who can fly and shoot the puck and make plays."
And Holmstrom to do his usual hardscrabble work around the net and in the corners.
By the numbers
1,000 — Games played by Todd Bertuzzi.
899 — Games played by Ruslan Salei.
1,471 — Games played by Nicklas Lidstrom.
The last time …
The Wings recorded a shutout: Dec. 3, 4-0 vs. Anaheim.
The Wings were shut out: Feb. 5, 3-0 vs. Nashville.
A Wings player scored an overtime goal: Johan Franzen, Jan. 15, vs. Columbus.
A Wings player had a hat trick: Patrick Eaves, Feb. 2, vs. Dallas.
A Wings player had a four-goal game: Brendan Shanahan, March. 15, 2001 vs. Calgary.
He said it
"When we scored it seemed like the home team scored."
— Nicklas Lidstrom, on Thursday's victory in Tampa Bay, where Red Wings fans outnumbered Lightning fans.