Zetterberg proves he’s not ready for the scrap heap
Pittsburgh — It sure looked last season like age and many years on the ice had caught up with Henrik Zetterberg.
His production was down (last season’s 50 points was a drop of 16 points), and at age 36, Zetterberg wasn’t getting any younger.
Red Wings 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,” Blashill said before Sunday’s game. “But he’s demanded that I play him more and that’s just the way it’s been.”
Zetterberg demanded it by being, arguably, the Red Wings’ best and most consistent player this season.
Zetterberg added two assists Sunday in the Wings’ 5-2 victory over Pittsburgh, adding to his team-leading 32 assists and 45 points.
“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. He’s demanded he play more and as we’ve gone through the season, he’s gotten more and more ice time because of that. It just speaks to the level of player he is.”
Zetterberg told reporters before the season that if his role were to be reduced, his ice time would have to be taken away from him and earned — 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, Blashill said, set an example for 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.”
An underrated key in Sunday’s victory was the play of Steve Ott.
The gritty, energetic veteran had a goal and assist, was plus-2, had a team-high six hits, and won three of four faceoffs, all in just under 13 minutes of ice time.
“I’ve done that my whole career, that’s how I play,” Ott said of his physical, grinding style. “All of us have to play a role. When you play your role, you hope to drag other guys into the competition, especially being physical, that’s something that maybe drags other teammates in there and we all feed off each other.”
Ott was a factor all weekend in the victories over Washington and Pittsburgh, be it fighting, penalty killing, or offense.
“He had an excellent weekend, his physicality on the weekend was great,” Blashill said. “His defensive game and play on the penalty kill was great. He did an excellent job, just his 5-on-5 play.
“He has a way about him in the locker room and he’s an asset to a hockey team.”
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’re a woeful 3-10 in the 3-on-3.
And with only 17 regulation/overtime wins (ROW) after Sunday’s victory, the Red Wings stood last in the Eastern Conference in that category — which will hurt them if they harbor any slim hopes of making a playoff push.
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, and then at that point, if that’s the tie-breaker, we’ll need an extra point at some point.
“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 than shootouts.”
Mike Green (illness) was not in the lineup against Pittsburgh, keeping Ryan Sproul in the lineup.
… The Ott-Riley Sheahan-Luke Glendening line earned the game puck from teammates, Blashill said, and was worthy because of excellent two-way play.
In particular Sheahan, who has yet to score this season in 57 games, was a factor at both ends of the ice.
“Sheahan has played good hockey, he just hasn’t scored,” Blashill said. “Sometimes that’s just the way it goes. Eventually he’ll get his goals. But he was an impact in the game for sure in a positive way.”