Red Wings' Zetterberg reflects on 'tough season'

Ted Kulfan
The Detroit News

Grosse Pointe Woods — This has been an unusual season for Henrik Zetterberg from a team perspective.

Instead of questions about the playoffs or recent victories, the Red Wings’ captain has been answering questions about losing streaks and the potential end of a 25-year playoff streak.

This hasn’t been a typical season. The only constant from years past?

Zetterberg’s consistent performance, as he leads the team with 41 points, although even that provides only limited satisfaction.

“It’s hard to be happy with the season when we are where we are in the standings,” said Zetterberg, the Red Wings sitting last in the Eastern Conference with 54 points (22-25-10) and have won only twice in the last 12 games (2-6-4).

“You can always be better, you can always produce more. I’m glad I’m healthy enough so I can be out there and do my best. So in that regard, I’m proud I am able to do that.

“But I still think I can produce more. I play a lot of power-play minutes and I don’t have a lot of power-play points. That’s one area I can be better at and that would help the team.”

And that team could use a lot of help in a lot of areas.

Red Wings’ Larkin flashes brilliance in latest loss

The Red Wings couldn’t gain any traction early in the season, incapable of sustaining any sort of positive stretch, then have sunk these last 12 games after putting together a three-game win streak over quality opponents (Pittsburgh, Montreal, Boston).

“It’s been a tough season, not just for me, but no different than the other guys,” Zetterberg said. “It’s hard to go through this, but you do it as a team and we try to get better every day and improve.

“There’s been some tough seasons here lately, basically grabbing the final playoff spots the last couple of games of the year. In that way, it’s no difference. But we’ve never been this far back, this time of year.

“The only thing we can do is work hard every day and get better and improve as individuals and as a team.”

Despite the persistent losing, and being outside of the playoff picture, Zetterberg still has fun coming to the rink.

“It’s fun to come in and see all the guys and everyone around the team,” Zetterberg said. “The trainers, everyone is doing a great job, and you keep positive.

“You have to go through it. It’s hard for players to go through some tough times, but you have to, to get better.

“It’s a learning experience for everyone, young and old. You have to go through this. We haven’t been better than what our record is. That’s the way it is. But we still have time to improve ourselves and make a charge.”

Larkin optimistic

This hasn’t been a memorable season thus far for Dylan Larkin, but there’s time left.

“Right now we have 25 games left,” Larkin said. “Especially for a player like myself, where things this year haven’t gone the way I would have liked them to, every day is a tryout. Every day I am trying to earn extra ice time, more trust.”

Often opposing teams will catch up to a player and identify weaknesses, or defend him differently.
But Larkin doesn’t necessarily feel that has been the case this season.

“I don’t think I’m in a position to be a guy they watch,” Larkin said. “I try to focus on myself more than what the other team is trying to do to me.”

Coach Jeff Blashill has seen improvement in Larkin’s overall play the last several weeks.

“My job is to make sure he’s a better player at the end of the year than he is at the beginning of the year,” Blashill said. “That’s what we’re doing.”

Quick start

Washington, the Red Wings’ opponent Saturday, is coming off its bye week. This season, teams are 3-8-1 in their first game coming off the bye.

“Three teams won, so it’s not foolproof,” Blashill said. “We’re playing probably the team many consider the best team in the league right now. We have to play a great hockey game.”

A fast start wouldn’t hurt either.

“You got to try to keep the tempo high and keep the shifts short, get momentum on your side right away,” Zetterberg said. “If we do that, we can take advantage from the start. It probably takes a period, then you're kind of in it again. So if we’re going to take advantage, we have to be sharp from the start.”

Capitals at Red Wings

Faceoff: 2 p.m. Saturday, Joe Louis Arena

TV/radio: FSD, 97.1 FM

Outlook: Washington comes in with the best record in the NHL (39-11-6, 84 points) and has a league-best plus-71 goal differential…The Capitals are 8-2 in their last 10 games, but have been off for five days.