Red Wings look for Datsyuk, Green to get going
Detroit — Another game Wednesday for the Red Wings, and another struggle to score.
Nearing the quarter pole of the season, they are barely a playoff team. The Wings entered play Thursday in third place in the Atlantic Division after the 2-1 overtime loss to the Capitals that brought them to 9-8-2.
Goaltending has been stellar and team defense mostly quite good.
The problem is offense.
The Red Wings tallied two or fewer goals in seven of the last eight games and 12 of the last 15.
Talk around the dressing room is of the need to persist, stick with “the process,” and eventually the goals will come.
“I agree to a certain extent,” coach Jeff Blashill said. “The process has been better. We’ve been improving.”
But the mantras are growing stale, without the intended results.
“I still think, though, we need a little bit more of a killer instinct mentality around the net and a little bit more killer instinct mentality to get to the net,” Blashill said.
It is the Wings’ skill that likely will spur scoring.
What is fortunate is two remedies are on the roster, again, and in good health.
Positioned to seize the initiative are two highly-skilled offensive players, Pavel Datsyuk and Mike Green, the free-agent defenseman acquired during the offseason.
Both players seem poised to perform, and at an important juncture of the season when ample opportunity for points beckons in the coming weeks.
And their scoring instincts and skill are precisely what the Red Wings need.
When a 1-5-1 stretch followed their 3-0 start, the Red Wings were having trouble winning faceoffs and keeping possession of the puck. They mostly corrected those problems.
For a while, the defensemen also were not involved enough in the offense. That problem is largely resolved, too, with the current trend mostly toward improvement.
Then, it was not enough shots. Recently, they have more.
The one problem stubborn against resolution is finding the back of the net.
Enter Datsyuk and Green.
Datsyuk. 37, returned four games ago from surgery in June on ankle ligaments. He has one assist, on Dylan Larkin’s goal Wednesday, the only Wings’ tally.
There seems little doubt Datsyuk remains a highly skilled, effective scorer.
After three straight seasons of less than 20 goals (19, 15 and 17), a healthier Datsyuk scored 26 last season in 63 games. He assisted on 39.
Add the handful of goals Datsyuk likely would have scored if he had played from the start of the season, toss in some more on which he would have assisted, and the Red Wings’ 42 goals for likely would increase by about 15 percent.
In each of his four games back in the lineup, Datsyuk played more than 19 minutes as the forward with the most or second most (Henrik Zetterberg) time on the ice. His shot totals were four, one, two and four, and his faceoff percentages 33, 67, 41 and 65.
The assist against the Capitals was his first point (Datsyuk has yet to score a goal), but he says he is better with each game.
“I have to score,” Datsyuk said, reviewing his performances.
“I need to try harder. I need to score.
“I have good chances, but I need to score with at least one. It would be good for me and for the team.”
Beginning tonight, Datsyuk is likely to play on a line with Teemu Pulkkinen and Brad Richards, who is returning from injury.
“Just trying to find line combinations where we can continue to do a good job of defending, but create some more offense,” Blashill said, of that new line combination.
Green, 30, returned six games ago after missing six with a shoulder injury. He also missed time with his new team in training camp with a sore groin.
He has four assists since his return, regularly logging either the most time on ice for a Wings defenseman or just a bit behind Niklas Kronwall.
Even on Wednesday, when he did not have a goal or assist, Green was on the rush and pinching in from the blue line repeatedly amid his generally assertive offensive play.
His minus-7 raises the issue of his defensive positioning and skills, which hurt him during his years in Washington, too.
But he scored 10 goals for the Capitals last year and led all defensemen with 12 three seasons ago. Known for a hard slap shot and more-than-capable playmaking, Green averaged 23 goals, 45 assists and 68 points from 2008-10.
It seems the huge offensive seasons he had from age 23 to 25, before missing most of two seasons with significant injuries, are behind him.
Green, however, remains an offensive threat and he is finally getting extended playing time with his new team.
“Especially when you’re joining a new team you want to help out, contribute, but sometimes it takes a little time to sort of get the feel, the flow, how the team plays,” Green said. “I feel like we’re really coming along.”
More points are available in Joe Louis Arena, where the Red Wings play eight of their next nine through Dec. 8. Compare that with 13 of 16 games on the road between Dec. 26-Feb. 5, and the schedule dictates the stern urgency of right now.
So far, however, their 4-5-1 record at home is disappointing.
More goals would help.
Gus Nyquist is on pace to score 28. Larkin is on pace to score 24. Justin Abdelkader, Tomas Tatar and Pulkkinen are on pace to score 20. Zetterberg is on pace for 16.
There might be some more goals available in improved performances from those half-dozen scorers. But the biggest untapped yield clearly is from Datsyuk and Green.
They may be poised.
“We do have a number of home games here before Christmas,” Blashill said. “So we need to do a better job of winning those home games, for sure.
“We’ve got to do a better job of finding ways to win more games.”
Datsyuk and Green could well be two of the ways.