Central: Zetterberg carrying Detroit’s offense with second half surge

By Andrew Sykes

Photo: Detroit Red Wings forward Henrik Zetterberg tries a wrap-around in the Wings’ 2-1 win over the Florida Panthers on Sunday (courtesy of

Steven King/Icon SMI)

Sometimes all it takes for a star player to break out is knowing that he is the go-to guy.

That would certainly ring true for Henrik Zetterberg, who started out slowly this season but has been the offensive leader for the Detroit Red Wings and one of the NHL’s hottest scorers since the All-Star break.

Coming off one of the best statistical seasons of his career, Zetterberg’s struggles through the first few months had it looking like the star winger would instead be in for one of the worst statistical seasons of his career.

Zetterberg’s offensive troubles started out of the gate in October when he scored two goals and had just one assist in nine October games. This came despite the fact that Detroit won their first five games of the season and were averaging three goals per game. He picked up the pace in November and December but did endure a stretch where he scored only one goal in 22 games from December 19 to February 6.

A quick look at the splits and it has truly become a tale of two seasons for Zetterberg. With nine goals and 26 assists in 50 games, Zetterberg’s pre All-Star Game numbers were a disappointment by his lofty standards. In just 29 games since the break however, Zetterberg has found the back of the net 13 times, has dished out 20 assists and has 33 points.

“Pucks are going in, you get more confidence and you do more stuff that comes natural,” Zetterberg told Mlive.com. “Before you maybe think twice about doing stuff, but now it just happens. Hopefully it will continue.”

The break seemed to do wonders for the 31-year-old, and when play resumed, Zetterberg’s offensive game took off and hasn’t let up since. He’s been Detroit’s best player for the last two months and was without question their most valuable player while the team fought through an extensive amount of injuries to key players.

“[Zetterberg’s] a competitive guy, but he’s skating so much better than he did at the start of the year,” coach Mike Babcock told MLive.com. “Things are going for him. He’s got confidence.”

Starting almost immediately after the All-Star festivities, Zetterberg began to rack up points in bunches with most of his damage being done on a line with the big bodies of Johan Franzen and Todd Bertuzzi. However, a knee injury to fellow superstar Pavel Datsyuk forced changes throughout the Red Wings forward lines and that was when Babcock formed the line of Zetterberg, Valtteri Filppula and Jiri Hudler.

With Zetterberg as the driving force, the line has become one of the most dangerous trio’s in the league and has provided much of Detroit’s offense while the team dealt with injuries to the likes of Datsyuk, Franzen and Hall of Fame defenseman Nicklas Lidstrom.

“He’s the best player on the ice right now, night in and night out,” defenseman Niklas Kronwall told MLive.com. “He’s making things happen every shift, whether that’s working hard offensively or defensively. Right now he’s playing unbelievable.”

“That whole line has been great for us.”

Zetterberg and the rest of his Detroit teammates will be in St. Louis tonight for a late season showdown with the Central Division champion St. Louis Blues. After Nashville’s win last night, the Red Wings will be looking to re-claim fourth-place in the West as the two teams continue to battle for home-ice in their potential first-round match-up.

Central Division Notes

Chicago BlackhawksAfter missing the past 20 games with an upper-body injury, captain Jonathan Toews is nearing a return and could possibly be in the lineup for Thursday’s meeting with Minnesota. The club will also have Duncan Keith back after the defenseman served a five-game suspension for an elbow to the head of Vancouver Canucks forward Daniel Sedin.

Columbus Blue Jackets
The Blue Jackets three-game win streak game to an end in a 2-0 loss to the Phoenix Coyotes. Columbus pounded 54 shots on Phoenix goaltender Mike Smith but he stopped them all in an impressive shutout performance.

Nashville Predators
Alexander Radulov’s shootout-winning goal boosted the Predators to an important win over the Minnesota Wild last night. Gabriel Bourque scored the lone Nashville goal in regulation and Anders Lindback made 25 saves in the win. The club now sits fourth in the West with 100 points—one ahead of fifth-place Detroit and two points clear of sixth-place Chicago.

St. Louis Blues
The Blues will hope to keep pace with the Vancouver Canucks for first in the West when they host the Detroit Red Wings tonight. David Perron will look to continue his scoring ways as the slick forward has recorded a goal in each of the club’s past three games.