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Savvy scoring leader Zetterberg still setting pace for Wings

Gregg Krupa, The Detroit News
Henrik Zetterberg – As the mid-season approaches, Zetterberg is leading the team in scoring (28 points), is plus-12, and playing over 19 minutes per game while providing strong leadership. Impressive stuff. GRADE: A-minus

In his 14th NHL season, 944 games and 855 points into his career, Henrik Zetterberg continues to lead the Detroit Red Wings.

At age 36, Zetterberg’s 19 points and 13 assists in 26 games both lead the team.

His goals tie him with Frans Nielsen and Mike Green for second on the team, behind Dylan Larkin with eight.

And there is his constancy around his teammates.

“We’ve been having our back a little bit against the wall here, digging our own hole, and he’s been stepping up as the leader he is,” Frans Nielsen said.

There was more acclaim from veteran teammates and his coach Sunday.

Zetterberg’s goal against the Islanders that replaced the one officials denied Mike Green gave the Red Wings a one-goal lead at 13:06 of the third period. His assist helped set up the winning goal by Danny DeKeyser at 1:02 of overtime in Detroit’s 4-3 triumph.

He now has three goals in three consecutive games and five points in five.

“You know, I always looked up to Henrik,” Nielsen said. “As a player, I always watched him on TV a lot, playing against him.

“But now, being on the same team, he always does the little things that I think the normal fan doesn’t always see. He’s always in the right position. Always a good stick.

“He’s not the fastest guy out there. He doesn’t have the best shot. But I think his hockey I.Q. is higher than anyone else. I think he’s just so much smarter than anyone else.”

Green said he appreciates the performance and understands the root: Zetterberg’s work and dedication.

“Tonight was no different from any other night,” Green said. “He’s been a big part of us winning hockey games.”

DeKeyser's OT goal rescues Wings after 3rd-period lapse

Jeff Blashill knows that with a roster still in flux and a team scrambling for offense, better defense in front of its goalies and points, Zetterberg remains the key.

“Z’s been real good all year, and he just seems to continue to go,” Blashill said. “Z’s one of those funny players that the more ice time he gets, the more juice he has in his legs, it seems.”

Zetterberg said a major factor in his recent performance is something else that is constant – at least recently: his linemates.

“I think both Tuna and Mo, we’ve been playing here over five or six games now, and it’s nice to get some chemistry going,” he said, using nicknames for Tomas Tatar and Anthony Mantha.

“It’s nice to see that we can keep the lines together, because it’s the one  thing that we’ve probably been lacking is offense for a time, and if we keep the lines together it probably will be a little easier to get that.”

Pressing issue

Despite the win Sunday, the Red Wings continued to have trouble with puck possession, playing more in the offensive zone and getting bottled up for far too long in their own end.

The first period was like that, through much of the 20 minutes. And in the beginning of the second and third, they were outshot 6-2 both times, before fixing the problems and eventually winning.

“I think, ultimately, your best defense is playing in the other team’s end, and we haven’t done enough of it this year,” Blashill said. “It’s something we’re working hard on.

“I thought especially the second half of the third period was as good as we have been in spending time in their end.”

Red Wings at Jets

Faceoff: 8 p.m. Tuesday, MTS Centre, Winnipeg, Manitoba

TV / radio: FSD Plus / 97.1 FM

Notes: The Wings are 4-1-2 in their past seven games, but they are fifth in the eight-team Atlantic Division in goals for and sixth in goals against. Generating offense out of their own zone is more difficult than it has been in decades. … The Jets, 8-5-0 at home, are coming off two big road wins against their top division rivals, 2-1 Sunday against the Blackhawks and 3-2 in overtime Saturday against the Blues.