‘No question’ Zetterberg, 36, has been Wings’ best player

Ted Kulfan
The Detroit News
Henrik Zetterberg moves the puck on Saturday against the Capitals.

Pittsburgh – Last season, it sure looked like age and many years on the ice rink had caught up with Henrik Zetterberg. His production was down (last season’s 50 points was a drop of 16 from the previous season), and at age 36, Zetterberg wasn’t getting any younger.

Coach Jeff Blashill was prepared to take action, reducing Zetterberg’s ice time and workload.

“I was very prepared to diminish ice time if his play had diminished,” said Blashill before Sunday’s game in Pittsburgh. “But he’s demanded that I play him more and that’s just the way it’s been.”

Zetterberg has demanded that time while being arguably the Red Wings’ best player this season. He entered Sunday’s game with a team-leading 30 assists and 43 points (13 goals).

“He’s been our best player, night in and night out,” Blashill said. “There’s no question about it.

“When you talk about a 200-foot game, and playing winning hockey, there’s no doubt about it. I came into the year, I was going to watch and see if his play had diminished and his ice time would diminish.

“But his play has been the opposite. As we’ve gone through the season, he’s gotten more and more ice time. It just speaks to the level of player he is.”

Puck bounces Red Wings' way in shootout win over Caps

Zetterberg told reporters before the season began, regarding the reduced role, that his ice time would have to be taken away from him and earned by other players – he wasn’t about to just give it away.

“That’s the approach he’s taken,” Blashill said.

Zetterberg’s determination and approach to his craft, said Blashill, is an example to younger players on the roster.

“I’ve talked to our young players about making sure they soak in what his approach is about and how competitive you have to be every single day to be an elite player,” Blashill said. “It’s easy to be a flash in the pan, and good one night and not good the next. It’s hard to be great every night and that’s what he does.”

No overtime magic

The Red Wings’ dramatic success in shootouts – they entered Sunday’s game an unbeaten 7-0 – has come at the result of lack of success in the 3-on-3 overtime format.

They are only 3-10 in the 3-on-3.

And with only 16 regulation / overtime wins (ROW), the Red Wings stood last in the Eastern Conference in that category – four teams were next with 22 – which would hurt the Red Wings if they were to get back in the playoff hunt.

The ROW is the first tiebreaker, if it gets that far.

“It weighs into it, but we need points first,” Blashill said. “I know it’s a tiebreaker but we need points first. We need to get the two points as much as we can.

“In my opinion, the rule of the ROW shouldn’t include overtime. It should be regulation wins, if that’s going to be the tiebreaker. The 3-on-3 is as much of a crapshoot as a shootout.

“I love it, it’s awesome, it’s great for the game and great entertainment. But it’s no more hockey as shootouts.”

Green out

Mike Green (illness) was not in the lineup Sunday against Pittsburgh, keeping Ryan Sproul in the lineup.

Twitter @tkulfan