After Nicklas Lidstrom’s retirement at the end of the 2011-2012 season, many Detroit fans were left wondering who would take on the captaincy on one of the most storied franchises in the NHL. Tomas Holmstrom, Johan Franzen, Niklas Kronwall, Pavel Datsyuk, and Henrik Zetterberg seemed to be the front runners, vying for the privilege to have the ‘C’ sewn on to their jersey each and every game. With the abbreviated NHL season a week from starting, and Tomas Holmstrom’s retirement imminent, the Red Wings organization decided to name Henrik Zetterberg captain on January 15th of this year. Detroit’s poor play over various portions of the season, specifically a period of 5 games in February where they only managed to gain 2 points towards the standings, forced them to scramble for a playoff spot late in the season. Their resilience in the standings, and their ability to make a resurgent playoff push can be accredited to Henrik Zetterberg, who has shown his worth as Nicklas Lidstrom’s successor and captain of the Detroit Red Wings.
Henrik Zetterberg displays a leadership quality that is quite different from Lidstrom. His ability to shoulder the load of his team helped them remain competitive throughout the season, and is one of few reasons why the Red Wings were able to save their 21-year playoff streak. He makes big plays at big times, but is also great at doing the little things right. He back-checks, fore-checks, he skates hard every shift, and does his very best every shift in every game. Just look at the last week of the season, where he had 10 points in 4 games, helping the Red Wings solidify 7th place in the Western Conference, and more importantly, a playoff spot. He is an exemplary player, who even though may not be the loudest on the ice, quietly leads his team and makes everyone around him better. He even goes as far as playing goalie, filling in for Jimmy Howard briefly, who is out of position, and saves a goal against the San Jose Sharks in a game at the end of February (seen below). The Detroit Red Wings have not missed the leadership of Nicklas Lidstrom one bit, as Henrik Zetterberg has stepped up and has become THE man in the Motor City.
Hockey Sense and Skill
I think Henrik Zetterberg is one of the most reliable and skilled players in the league. He may not be as flashy as stars like Ovechkin, Crosby, or even his teammate Pavel Datsyuk, but he has a great sense of the game and is skilled in all of it’s areas. He is a great two-way centre-man, is decent on face-offs, and can fill up a score sheet. What better way to show your worth to a team than by finishing the season with 48 points (good for 13th in the league), of which he has 37 assists (5th in the league), and 5 game-winning goals (6th in the league). His ability to find open, and even covered teammates (i.e. slick pass to Franzen seen in video below), and score goals at key moments in games was a big reason why Detroit was able to make the second-half comeback they did and make the playoffs. This week he had 8 assists in the final 4 games. His positioning is spot on during the game and he anticipates the flow of the game very well (see my post on Danny Dekeyser where Henrik anticipates Dekeyser’s shot from the point that goes wide, and pounces on the loose puck to score the games first goal). He has only put 90+ points once in his career, but his ability to consistently put up 70-80 points a year (according to NHL.com) goes a long way in helping the Red Wings succeed. Henrik Zetterberg is a prime example of a well-rounded hockey player, and his offensive and defensive abilities make him the most valuable player for the Detroit Red Wings.
After a stressful month of April, especially the last week, where they won 4 straight games en route to clinching a playoff spot, the Red Wings will have a couple days off before kicking off the post-season later this week. They will face the number-2 seed in the Western Conference, the Anaheim Ducks. With the Ducks playing extremely well down the stretch (just ignore the ugly 5-3 loss to Phoenix in the last game of the season), Detroit will have its work cut out for them in the first round. If the Red Wings are to beat the Ducks, Henrik Zetterberg will have to continue to be his teams’ most valuable player. The Red Wings’ playoff aspirations depend on it.