DETROIT – Quick update from Detroit Red Wings practice at Joe Louis Arena Friday afternoon.
Wings coach Mike Babcock answer to fixing his team’s struggling offense is by splitting up Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg.
“It’s not going,” Babcock said after practice. “I told them and you guys I wasn’t going to split them up and 11 games in I’m splitting them up. It wasn’t by plan and not necessarily what I wanted to do, but we need to.”
Datsyuk will center a line with Daniel Alfredsson and Todd Bertuzzi, while Zetterberg will center Johan Franzen and Tomas Tatar.
“We think we need more going,” Babcock said. “It’s too easy to shut down one or two guys. You need a team going. Right now we need Alfie and we need Mule and a whole bunch of guys to score. We haven’t gotten that much with playing with those guys so maybe if we get them playing with those guys then we get four guys scoring and the other guys contributing more on a regular basis and then we become a better hockey team. That’s the plan.”
The Wings have scored just three goals over their last three games.
“Could be a record, what was it 10 games,” Zetterberg joked about how long he was able to stick alongside Datsyuk to start the season. “I think Babs was pretty up front about it, we will be playing together until he needs to switch it up and now it’s time. I’m pretty sure we’ll play together here at some point in time. But when we’ve been losing games like we have, haven’t been scoring much, we have to try something different.”
The two will remain on the top power play unit.
Zetterberg leads the team with 12 points, followed by Datsyuk with 11 and Alfredsson with nine. The fourth leading scoring is a defenseman, Niklas Kronwall (seven points).
“I think it’s sometimes you have to switch it up a little bit to hopefully get some more offense going,” Zetterberg said. “I’ve played with Mule many times. It’s going to be fun to play with Tats, too. He’s a skilled player and he’s got a lot of talent. He hasn’t got so many opportunities to play. It’s going to be nice to see now when he gets one.”
The biggest beneficiary is Tatar.
“We have to generate more offense,” Babcock said. “Some guys are given the opportunity because we have to generate some more offense. We need team offense, not individual offense. That comes from forechecking harder, being heavier on the puck in the O-zone, having a better net-front presence, shooting the puck and getting it back. We’d like him to be a part of all those things.”
Tatar will be in the lineup a third straight game after sitting out eight of the Wings’ first nine contests.
“We need to score more goals,” Tatar said. “Hopefully this is going to be the turning point and I can help the first two lines produce.
“This is a big opportunity to play with those guys,” Tatar continued. “It’s basically like a dream. All those guys are really good players. They’re leaders on the team. It’s going to be fun and hopefully we can build some chemistry there and score a couple of goals.”
Tatar, 22, was the American Hockey League MVP last season, scoring 16 goals to go with five assists in 24 games.
“My job will be to skate, get the pucks for the guys so they can make the plays,” Tatar said. “Be aggressive on the puck for those guys so we can stay in the offensive zone, get the puck in the corners for them. They are smart guys and make the plays so I need to get open for them and make more space.
“It’s just another game,” Tatar added. “I don’t want to be shaky. In the end I want to be the winner. That’s an important thing for me right now.”
Patrick Eaves and Darren Helm won’t play Saturday against the New York Rangers.
Helm suffered a minor groin flare up during this two-game conditioning stint in Grand Rapids.
“If that didn’t happen I felt that I had a chance for (Saturday), but the groin is feeling better, the back is feeling good,” Helm said. “The test in GR went really well and hopefully everything will be good for Canada somewhere.”
Jimmy Howard will start in goal.