Spotlight on the Opponent: Valtteri Filppula

What: Detroit at Tampa Bay
When: Thursday, December 12, 7:30pm (TV: FSD)

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He still wears that familiar no. 51, but he’s no Dick Butkus on the ice.

Valtteri Filppula plays for the Tampa Bay Lightning now, signed away from the Red Wings as a free agent last summer. The Red Wings didn’t particularly want to lose Filppula, but in today’s salary cap world, you can’t always keep everyone.

The Red Wings sure would like to have Filppula, a center, on their roster right about now.

First, injuries in Detroit have decimated the center position, with three of the four Red Wings starting centers (Henrik Zetterberg, Stephen Weiss and Darren Helm) spending time on the injured list already this season.

Second, Filppula’s “replacement,” free agent signee Weiss, has been less than spectacular, registering only four points thus far.

Filppula has 10 goals and 10 assists so far for Tampa this season, and seems to be fitting in nicely with his new team. Filppula spent eight seasons in Detroit, scoring an even 100 goals as a Red Wing. In the 2009 run to the Stanley Cup Finals, Filppula scored 16 points, including 13 assists.

Here are some words about Filppula from one of his new teammates and his coach, Jon Cooper.

“I think he kind of got lost in the shuffle for a while in Detroit, with all the great players they’ve had,’’ Steven Stamkos said. “He’s really getting to showcase the skill set he brings game in and game out. I knew he had that skill, but to see the calmness that he plays with, to see the poise he has with the puck, he’s a very smart player. He’s fit in great.’’

Cooper said Filppula has exceeded expectations on and off the ice.

“He’s brought stability in the second (center spot),’’ Cooper said. “I think we just underestimated his quiet calm. He’s not your vocal guy in the room, but he’s a leader. I think he just calms everybody down when he has the puck. He’s poised under pressure all day. He’s been great for our team, especially with all the young guys we have.’’

Though Val has slowed a little from his, ahem, lightning-fast start in Tampa, he is still third on the team in scoring, behind Stamkos (who is likely out for the season with a broken leg) and team leader Martin St. Louis.

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