There has been a lot going on in Red Wings land this week, with the recent announcement that 'Mr.Hockey' Gordie Howe suffered a severe stroke. Howe spent 25 seasons in the Motor City and is the greatest player to ever wear a Red Wings jersey, so the news was certainly shocking to hockey fans in Detroit, as well as around the world.
Amidst the sadness was good news as Pavel Datsyuk returned to action for the Red Wings, playing his first game in front of the home town crowd at the end of last week. The 36-year-old Russian has already found his scoring touch, putting up four goals in his last three games, two of which came Friday against the defending Stanley Cup champion Kings, including a nice pickpocket of Dwight King.
It can be argued that Datsyuk, similar to Howe in his time with the Red Wings, is the greatest player of his era to wear the red and white, while the debate on the other side of the table might say that Henrik Zetterberg can be graced with that title.
The debate may be too close to call. In 829 games, Datsyuk has 276 goals, 536 assists and 812 points. Zetterberg has 282 goals, 452 assists and 734 points in 769 games. Both have always been in the high plus column of plus minus and both players are fantastic on the power play. They're both natural leaders in the dressing room and both have helped develop and maintain a winning culture in Detroit.
Let's save the debate, they're both awesome, which brings me to my point. How much do these gentlemen mean to the Red Wings franchise? Well, they mean a lot.
Think back to last season when both players missed 37 games with injury. The Wings barely sneaked into the postseason and if it wasn't for the surprising season of Gustav Nyquist and a better than expected performance from Daniel Alfredsson, the Red Wings would have missed the playoffs, something hockey fans are not accustomed to.
Both players are in their thirties and may be considered passed their primes in some eyes, which can explain the trips to the injured list, but when healthy no one is more important to the Red Wings than they are and thankfully for Detroit fans they look back to form.
With things back to normal for the Red Wings the results look good. In five games, Datsyuk has eight points and four goals, while Zetterberg has 14 points in 10 games which ranks him fourth in the NHL. Both players were key contributors in Saturday's 5-2 win with Zetterberg assisting on two goals, while Datsyuk had two goals and an assist, earning him second star of the game. The Red Wings sit third in the Eastern Conference with 14 points and have been exceptional at home and on the road.
Although the team's success could be for a number of reasons such as: the coaching wisdom of Mike Babcock, the goal scoring presence of Gustav Nyquist or the steadiness of Jimmy Howard in net, having the reliably effective play of Datsyuk and Zetterberg back in the line-up has been a difference maker. If the pair can stay healthy you can expect Detroit's return to the playoffs and this time it won't be a short-lived run as the number eight seed, but as a Stanley Cup contender.