Despite being named only the third captain in the better part of three decades, being a Conn Smythe Trophy winner after winning the team’s last cup and being regarded as one of the best players in the world, many in Detroit may take the Red Wings’ Henrik Zetterberg’s abilities for granted.
I know I have at times, but over the last month since the Winter Classic, I have done nothing but watch in amazement in just how good he is.
Even though Zetterberg doesn’t lead the team in goals, only has 42 points, 27 behind league leader Sidney Crosby, and is 20 assists off the pace of league leader Joe Thornton, Zetterberg is playing some of the best hockey of his career. It was obvious last night in his three-assist performance against the Chicago Blackhawks just how much Zetterberg means to the Wings and the performance of the team’s kids show just how far his leadership goes.
While he was part of the injury parade himself with a back issue in December, Zetterberg is now faced every night with the prospect of playing with nothing but, well, prospects. Matched up last night with Gustav Nyquist and Justin Abdelkader on the team’s “top-line” Zetterberg did not look like he missed a beat. Many times in the final push for the win at the end of regulation the lack of polished talent on his line didn’t stop the captain from dazzling with puck possession and his ability to find the open man for a scoring chance.
It is almost hard at this point to not feel a little bit bad for Zetterberg too. Off the ice he may have it all, a gorgeous family, money, fame, hero status in his home country of Sweden, but right now on ice it sometimes looks like he has to do it all himself. Rarely does it seem like Zetterberg is getting the help he needs to make plays. Nyquist and Abdelkader are certainly not bad hockey players, but they cannot compare to the presence of Johan Franzen or Pavel Datsyuk have when on the ice. On top of that his Zetterberg’s current linemates just don’t have that almost sixth-sense required to think as fast as Zetterberg does at times.
Even with all that working against him, Zetterberg has helped lead the wings to a 2-1 record on the current home stand with six points, one goal and five assists. It is his assists this year that shows he is just the kind of player the Red Wings need right now. Yes, obviously some goals would be nice, but Detroit needs a player who elevates the other players not one who makes sure his play is the best it can be while the team suffers.
Really when you think about it, with all the injuries this team has, it is a miracle the Wings could even hang with some of the teams they have played in January, yet it has been the team’s leadership that has helped them persevere. Zetterberg’s three assist performance last night all came on goals by either role-players or young players, with him setting up Patrick Eaves, Kyle Quincey and Gustav Nyquist. Those three players, with the exception of probably Nyquist, are lucky to see time on the ice with Zetterberg, let alone get an opportunity to accept a pass from him. Yet, with all these injuries, these are the players Zetterberg is helping to score and as a result helping the Red Wings tread-water.
This of course, is all without discussing Zetterberg’s defensive game which has helped the Wings only give up just 2.6 goals per game this year and maintain a seventh overall penalty kill percentage.
Even without the discussion of his defensive prowess Zetterberg is playing like a most valuable player. He isn’t scoring enough to get his name in the MVP conversation, but there is no doubt, in my mind at least, that this team would not be anywhere close to remaining in the playoff race if it was not for their Captain. It is his sheer will to help those around him play better that cements Zetterberg as an elite player, since after all the best players are the ones who help those around them succeed.