Zetterberg Playing Like a Young 34 After Being an Old 33

The Red Wings captain of today was wearing a suit when he should have been wearing a uniform.

When the Red Wings honored defenseman Nick Lidstrom last winter by retiring his no. 5 jersey, the evening was jarred by the sight of two current Red Wings and former Lidstrom teammates, Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg, wearing Armani instead of Reebok.

Both were battling injuries. Zetterberg’s was a back ailment, and watching him move around gingerly that night was less-than-inspiring.

The Red Wings captain, Lidstrom’s successor in that role, returned in time for the playoffs but he wasn’t anywhere near 100 percent.

Hockey players are the Frankenstein monsters of athletes. They are sewn together and zipped up. I think if you look closely, some of them have bolts coming out of their necks.

They’ll play on one leg and seeing out of one eye. Teeth are optional, as are all internal organs other than the heart.

But as tough as they are, hockey players aren’t immune to two things: groin injuries and bad backs. Those maladies are the hockey player’s Kryptonite.

Just ask the guy in the broadcast booth who has described Zetterberg’s on-ice wizardry ever since Hank broke into the league in 2002.

Mickey Redmond was 28 years old when his back popped. A two-time 50-goal scorer, Redmond’s hands never left him. His shot never vanished. But his back went out and that was pretty much it for him as a hockey player. His last NHL game played was in January, 1976.

More than three years later, at age 31, Redmond tried to give it another shot on the ice but only lasted a few days in training camp in 1979 before retiring for good. The bad back quickly re-flared.

So there was some understandable breath holding when Zetterberg’s back, which has given him problems off-and-on for several years now, ached him yet again last season. Zetterberg’s age (33 at the time) only added to the angst.

Seeing Z waddle around during the Lidstrom ceremony didn’t help the psyche of a fan base that was rooting for its team to make the playoffs for a 23rd consecutive season.

Fast forward to this season. The captain’s back is repaired and he’s, well, back.

Boy, is he ever back.

Zetterberg is 34 now but he is flitting around the ice like he’s 24. Usually he is the Red Wings’ best player on any given night. He skates freely, briskly and with purpose. Sometimes you swear there are two no. 40s on the ice at once.

All Zetterberg has been doing is scoring goals, assisting on others, playing defense on both ends of the ice and leading by example. You know, kind of like what Z’s predecessors at captain—Steve Yzerman and Lidstrom—did all their careers.

On October 15, Zetterberg said he played a stinker of a game against Boston at Joe Louis Arena. He was quick to call himself out. The Red Wings lost in a shootout that night to the Bruins.

Zetterberg then took out his anger on the poor Toronto Maple Leafs.

In a rare home-and-home series with an Original Six club the weekend of October 17 and 18, Zetterberg assisted on all four Red Wings goals on Friday night in a 4-1 victory. The next night, he scored the game’s only goal, in overtime. The following game, in Montreal, Zetterberg scored Detroit’s only goal in a 2-1 loss.

That goal in Montreal meant that Henrik Zetterberg had a hand in the Red Wings’ six most recent goals.

The schedule moved on and Zetterberg moved on with it, his back healthy and leaving him pain-free.

Two nights after Montreal, the big, bad Pittsburgh Penguins came to town and with less than three minutes remaining, the Red Wings trailed 3-1 and the arena was emptying.

Enter Zetterberg. Again.

He took a pass near the Penguins blue line and split the defense like a high-flying youngster. Before Pens goalie Thomas Greiss, making his first start of the season, knew what hit him, Zetterberg had fired a shot over the goalie’s left shoulder to make the score 3-2.

Exactly two minutes later, at 19:21, Zetterberg assisted on Niklas Kronwall’s tying goal.

In overtime, with less than a minute remaining, Zetterberg was hard on the forecheck behind the Penguins net and got his stick on an attempted clearing pass. The puck squirted out to Justin Abdelkader, who deposited it past Greiss to cap the amazing comeback, which gave the Red Wings two of the most unlikeliest points they will earn all season.

When the snow settled, the three points Zetterberg earned against the Penguins gave him a hand in nine of the last 10 Red Wings goals.

The streak started immediately after the captain indicted himself for his play against Boston.

Watching the man they call Hank or Z—because Henrik and Zetterberg take too long to say—play this season is like watching a youthful rookie skating on fresh legs. If you didn’t know better, you’d think Zetterberg was one of those Grand Rapids Griffins called up last year.

Lately, coach Mike Babcock has paired Zetterberg with Pavel Datsyuk on the same line, now that Datsyuk is back in the lineup, healed from his shoulder injury.

To say that it’s pleasing to finally see Z and Pavs together again is an understatement. Last season, injuries kept the two off the ice far too often. Or when one was healthy, the other wasn’t.

Zetterberg turned 34 a few weeks ago. Last season he looked like an old 33, with his bad back. This year he looks like a young 34, mainly because his back doesn’t make him feel 54.

He captains a team that is younger and less experienced than any roster Yzerman or Lidstrom led, which makes Zetterberg’s savvy and skill on the ice all the more appreciated.

And heaven help the league the next time Z thinks he’s had a bad game.

1954-55 Red Wings: Lorne Davis

Lorne Davis

THE LORNE DAVIS FILE:

Born: July 20, 1930; Died: December 20, 2007

Position: Right wing

NHL games played: 95 (22 with Red Wings)

1954-55 stats: 22 GP; 0 G; 5 A; 2 PM

CAREER: Goals: 8; Assists: 12; PM: 20

Lorne Davis proved that Stanley Cup rings can come if you’re in the right place at the right time—and more than 30 years apart.

Davis was a 24-year-old right winger playing for the Chicago Black Hawks (Black Hawks was two words back then) when the Red Wings acquired him in November, 1954 for longtime Winged Wheeler Metro Prystai, which was a surprising trade, as Prystai was entering the prime of his career at age 27 and had scored 71 goals playing in Detroit.

Davis made it into 22 games in ’54-55, registering five assists, but was left off the Red Wings’ playoff roster that spring. Still, Davis can say that he played for a Cup-winning team. It was the second time in Davis’ young career that his team won a Stanley Cup. He was a member of the 1953 Cup winners in Montreal and got into seven playoff games for the Habs that spring.

Davis is also part of Red Wings history for being involved in the blockbuster offseason trade that sent Davis, Marcel Bonin and netminder Terry Sawchuk to the Boston Bruins in the summer of 1955. The Red Wings got a lot back from Boston in terms of quantity (five players), but not so much in terms of quality. The trade was controversial and was looked at as an impetuous move on the part of Red Wings GM Jack Adams. But the team said it wanted to pave the way for young Glenn Hall to take over in goal.

More than 30 years after playing on the 1955 Cup winners, Davis earned five more rings as a scout for the powerhouse Edmonton Oilers teams of the 1980s. His scout work followed some coaching work in the minor leagues.

NEXT WEEK: Alex Delvecchio. I think you may have heard of him.

1954-55 Red Wings: Marcel Bonin

Marcel Bonin

THE MARCEL BONIN FILE:

Born: September 12, 1932

Position: Left wing

NHL games played: 454 (107 with Red Wings)

1954-55 stats: 69 GP; 16 G; 20 A; 53 PM

CAREER: Goals: 97; Assists: 175; PM: 336

If there was a word to describe Marcel Bonin, it would be “consistent.”

Bonin played parts of 10 seasons in the NHL and in the six in which he was a regular, he scored between 13 and 17 goals in five of them.

Bonin had the good fortune of playing for the Red Wings and the Montreal Canadiens between 1952-62 (with a one-season stop in Boston sandwiched in), when both Detroit and Montreal dominated the NHL. That fortune led to Bonin being a four-time Stanley Cup winner (one with Detroit, three with Montreal).

Bonin’s legend is more closely connected to the Canadiens, with whom he played 280 of his 454 NHL games.

But in 1954-55, Bonin was a 22-year-old getting his first significant playing time in the league, roaming left wing for the Red Wings. Two years prior, Bonin made his NHL debut (37 games), but spent most of 1953-54 with Detroit’s Western Hockey League affiliate in Edmonton. He only got into one game with the Red Wings that season.

Bonin appeared in all 11 playoff games with the Red Wings in 1955, winning his first of four Cups. He had two assists.

NEXT WEEK: Lorne Davis, a right winger who also had good career timing, Cup-wise.

Babcock to NHL.com: Wings’ speed can kill

Red Wings coach Mike Babcock talks to NHL.com’s Dan Rosen about how the team’s speed could be a factor this season, unlike in years past.

By Dan Rosen – NHL.com Senior Writer / Over the Boards blog

Speed. Lots and lots of speed.

“We’re just a way faster team than we were,” Babcock said in a phone interview after practice Tuesday. “For example, when we’re out penalty killing the guys who penalty killed last year were first-year players; this year they’re second-year players. They’re quicker, more sure of themselves.”

Seven of the 12 forwards Detroit has used through two games were not in the lineup for the season-opener last season. They’re all young and fast players — Tomas Tatar, Gustav Nyquist, Tomas Jurco,Riley Sheahan, Luke Glendening, Darren Helm and Andrej Nestrasil.

Of the seven who have been replaced, only Pavel Datsyuk, Stephen Weiss and Daniel Cleary still are with the team. Datsyuk is injured; Weiss and Cleary have been healthy scratches. Cory Emmerton(KHL), Todd Bertuzzi (free agent), Mikael Samuelsson (Swedish Hockey League) and Daniel Alfredsson(free agent) are the other four.

The Red Wings are 1-1, but in games against the Boston Bruins and Anaheim Ducks they dominated time of possession. Detroit is plus-25 in shot attempts (97-72) and plus-10 in shots on goal (53-43).

Detroit plays the Bruins in the NBCSN Wednesday Night Rivalry game at Joe Louis Arena (8 p.m. ET).

“The way we practiced [Monday], we haven’t been able to practice like that since ’09. No chance. No chance,” Babcock said. “Does that guarantee success? No, but I think it sets us up to be better than we have been tenacity-wise.”

Babcock said a key is he doesn’t believe there is much of a drop off between Detroit’s second and fourth lines.

“The other night when we started the game [Henrik] Zetterberg was our first line and Sheahan was in the two-hole and he was going to play against [Ryan] Kesler,” Babcock said. “When that didn’t work we played Helm against him. When that didn’t work we played Glendenning against him. There’s not much difference. Some people might hear that and say, ‘Well, that’s because they don’t have any second line.’ I’m not sure of that. I just think we don’t fall off very much.”

Babcock saw the change in speed in the second half of last season, when Jurco, Tatar, Sheahan and Glendenning became regulars in the lineup.

“We got quicker right to the [Stanley Cup] Playoffs,” he said. “Boston slowed us down to a halt in the playoffs. With a year under our belts I think we can be a quicker team.”

Quickness to Babcock isn’t limited to skating; it includes reading and reacting to plays. He wants the Red Wings to be automatic in what they do instead of thinking, which inevitably slows a player down.

That’s another area where experience will help.

“If you’re going to be fast you’ve got to think real fast and you’ve got to be detailed, but I don’t want us to think, I want us to play,” he said. “I want us to think during the week in practice so when it’s time to get the puck dropped we’re just automatic so it’s quicker.”