“It’s the best team we’ve played all year.”

January 13, 2006

Those are the words of a tired Ken Hitchcock last night after his team completed an 11-game road trip in Detroit with a 6-3 loss to the Wings.

Is it true? 

That can be debated.  But if you look at the Wings third period last night, saw the energy and the killer instinct displayed by Datsyuk and Zetterberg, it may just be accurate.

When the Wings play the way they can, they are the best team in the league.  That’s exactly twice that we’ve seen it this year, however. 

On to the notes.

Right off the jump it was clear one game plan Mike Babcock stressed was getting into the head of Peter Forsberg.  And with that, the Wings came at him in wave after wave of antagonism.

Cleary–several times, Maltby, Franzen, Draper, Chelios.  Every time Forsberg had the puck, someone was in his face. It was the most abrasive game the Wings have shown us this year. 

Detroit displayed a style so different than what we’ve seen up to this point that it is startling to consider that due to one game in January, a Cup run looks more realistic than ever.

Why? Because the way they played last night is how they’ll beat Calgary.

Dan Cleary took back-to-back roughing and boarding penalties last night.  Good for you Dan.  When the penalty kill looked as good as it did last night (minus one bad goal on poor coverage from Draper), take the occasional opportunity to make a run at someone to leave an impression.

Babcock’s decision to place Datsyuk, Zetterberg and Shanahan back on the same line was genius.  All three were slumping. 

Not anymore. 12 points for that line alone; 9 of them in the third period.

Zetterberg scored twice and added two assists, same for Datsyuk.  Shanny had four assists.  They were so good in the third period that it looked like they’d pop one ever shift.

Second straight game against a quality East opponent that the Wings played tougher than their opponent.  Is this a philosophy change?  Hopefully.  

Babcock and Holland have a touch decision to make when Kronwall comes back.  Who sits, or heads to Grand Rapids, to make room?  Lebda has to stay up here, in my opinion.  The kid is playing so well, so responsibly, that it’s tough to see him leaving.  Lilja is improving, and beginning to use his size.  Wooley is an offensive force, but a liability in his own end.  Cap issues may have more say than I’m willing to explore right now, but I’d guess Wooley will see little ice time once Kronwall gets back into the lineup. 

Milestones all over the place last night as Zetterberg blew by his career high in points (44) to end the game with 48.

In the third The Captain surpassed Gordie Howe on the NHL all time assist list with a gorgeous pass to Robet Lang (he wears #20 for the Wings, in case you hadn’t seen him lately). 

Via the Detroit News:

“That’s how good you’ve been and how long you’ve played when pass a player like Gordie Howe,” Babcock said.


That assist was the final act in a three-part play that started about 90 seconds before the goal, though.

Yzerman was leaving the ice when Sami Kapponen ran him.  It was a borderline clean hit, but you could see the old fire in 19’s eyes as he left the ice.  He was back out there about 40 seconds later and he immediately hit the first Flyer he could find: defenseman Randy Jones.  Yzerman then took off up ice and had the puck on a two-on-one with Lang. For the second straight game, we saw vintage Stevie as he waited until the last possible second, threaded a pass to Lang and up the assist list he moved.

Yzerman, with his energy and commitment, could very well lead this team as far as his health will carry him.  If he continues to play the way he has the last two games, it’s going to be an interesting spring.

A 1-1 game broke open 15 seconds into the third when the Wings outstanding penalty killing paid off with a shorty from Chelios (2), helped by a Selke-type play from Draper. 

Via the Detroit Free Press:

“In my case, it was just Maltby and Draper doing all the work,” Chelios said. “Their forwards were kind of lollygagging back and we caught them by surprise.” 

32 seconds later Shanahan fed Datsyuk in front.  Dats went forehand to back hand and buried it top shelf for a 3-1 lead.

Philly countered with a Seiderberg goal of Lilja’s leg, but Zetterberg’s 21st opened the lead to two.  Gagne’s 31st closed the gap again.

And Zetterberg, a future captain, scored again to seal the deal.


“Once in a while, you get every bounce on your stick and it goes well for you,” said Zetterberg, who has 22 goals and 26 assists. “I think tonight was one of those nights.”

The chemistry between Zetterberg, Datsyuk and Shanahan can’t be overstated.  It’s a line that is almost certain to make chances, and we may not see it often because all three players are instrumental in getting the most out of the rest of the team.  If the Wings are going to spread the wealth, that line can’t stay together. 

Detroit News:

“(The chemistry) was really good,” Babcock said. “He’d (Zetterberg) been our best center, and your moving him to the wing, you’re saying what are you doing, but he’s also a pretty good winger.”

Babcock said he made the move because Zetterberg “was playing too good down the middle.”

“With him, Lang and Datsyuk we have three quality centers. I’ve got room for two of them,” Babcock said. “The guy who plays the wall the best is Hank. So even though he was playing great down the middle, that’s what we’re doing.”

But there will be times, like last night, when Babcock needs guaranteed offensive production.  That’s when we’ll see that line again.

From Booth Newspapers (Mlive):

“I’ve enjoyed playing center, but the coach put me back on wing and you can’t complain about that either,” Zetterberg said. “It was fun to be back playing with (Datsyuk). He and Shanny had a great game. You just have to enjoy these kind of games. The puck won’t bounce like it did today every game.”

The necessity to keep the Draper, Maltby, Franzen line on against Forsberg, Gagne and Knuble most likely led to the re-unification of the Datsyuk line, as well.  Draper’s line was outstanding, despite Gagne’s two goals. In addition to shutting down Forsberg–as much as any line can do that–and assisting on Chelios’ goal, Draper was also 13 of 17 on faceoffs.

Booth (Mlive):

“It’s the best game, since I’ve been here, that Kris Draper has played, by far,” Babcock said. “He was outstanding. That line did a good job.

“Obviously, Zetterberg and Datsyuk and those guys that scored are going to get the credit, but (Draper’s line) did the work.”

Via the Philadelphia Daily News:

“[Niittymaki] kept us in for two periods but finally even he couldn’t help us,” Forsberg said. “We had too many turnovers, we gave them too many chances. They made good plays, too, but there were too many wide-open chances and Niittymaki couldn’t stop those. They were hungry and we gave up too many quality chances in the third period and they buried them.”

Legace played adequately.   Tested rarely and frankly looked a little shaky.  The key to this whole goalie situation is not who has more ability, mental toughness or experience.  In those areas, Osgood and Legace are fairly equal.  The determining factor has to be which goalie the team plays better in front of.  Right now, that’s Legace.

NHL.com box score (Box score is incorrect here and on TSN. Specifically, both say Maltby scored.  We all know that is just pure, outrageous fiction.)

On the Wings recap

Detroit News: Babcock’s wizardry pays off

Detroit Free Press: Wings ground Flyers

Booth Newspapers: Zetterberg, Datsyuk…

Philadelphia Daily News: Breakdown in Detroit 


5 Responses to ““It’s the best team we’ve played all year.””

  1. Olongapo Joe Says:

    The Wings were so good last night, Maltby got a goal and wasn’t even on the ice.

    (That boxscore at NHL.com is so wrong).

  2. iwocpo Says:

    I saw that too. I won’t be using them anymore.

  3. Olongapo Joe Says:

    I can understand Messier receiveing top billing on NHL.com’s homepage.

    But the points leaders in each conference square-off last night and that isn’t worthy of receiving a Top Story linky?

  4. iwocpo Says:

    I’ve held off on my opinion of Messier and where he stands in the “best captain” list of things.

    I’m sure NHL.com was following the direction of Daddy Gary in publicizing the “messiah’s” big night. They probably feel the fence-sitters need reminding how exciting it was when Mess guaranteed victory.

  5. […] The story of the game was the Shanahan-Datsyuk-Zetterberg line, which accounted for four Red Wings goals and 12 points (four each). These three were especially potent in the third period, when they lit the lamp three times in 10 minutes. They were magic together and you could sense the change in the atmosphere of JLA when they were on the ice. I was really hoping for a hat trick from either Pavel or Hank but didn’t get it. Don’t expect that line to be around long, though, because it’s hard for the Wings to spread the wealth offensively with such a high concentration of talent on one line, as A2Y points out. […]

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