DETROIT – This is normally the time Detroit Red Wings coach Mike Babcock breaks up Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk.
That won’t be the case just yet.
That top pairing, along with Todd Bertuzzi, has been the only consistent scoring the team has gotten all season and they’ll stay together for the time being.
“Our second line ain’t getting it done,” said Babcock, whose squad hosts Tampa Bay Saturday night. “Someone else is going to learn how to play in the second hole and play well.”
In Wednesday’s 4-3 overtime loss to the Dallas Stars, Bertuzzi and Datsyuk each had a goal and an assist, while Zetterberg had the first assist on all three tallies.
“Last night, let’s be honest, Pav and Z and those guys won the game for us,” Babcock said. “We checked it right back. We needed (Niklas Kronwall) or the goalie to get hit on the third goal. We needed us not to take a penalty in the offensive zone. We didn’t need to lose coverage down low on (Shawn) Horcoff with 21 seconds left.
“We did tons of great things in the game,” Babcock continued. “I went through (the tape) meticulously today. That’s basically what I told the players, let’s keep getting better because we are getting better. But we can’t shoot ourselves in the foot. There were just a couple mistakes. The amount of zone time Pav and Z and those guys had alone they could have had five. They had great chances.”
And now with the injuries to Stephen Weiss (groin) and Johan Franzen (upper body), Babcock is trying to find two other skaters to play alongside Daniel Alfredsson, who’s third on the team in scoring with three goals and 10 assists.
“He’s a good player, we need someone to play with him,” Babcock said when asked about Alfredsson. “We have to give him some help. We need to get him some skating, net front presence and some execution. He has to take some responsibility as well, but we have to help him out.”
He had Darren Helm centering the second line, along with Tomas Tatar on the other wing, but he’ll unlikely stay there since he’s played just three games this season.
“(He’s been) outstanding,” Babcock said of Helm. “The problem is fitness. How are you in game shape and how do you have hands when you haven’t played in two years. It just doesn’t happen. If I play Helmer as many minutes as a second line center needs he’s going to be done.
How do you do it? I don’t know all the answers to the questions so I’ll sleep on it another night.”
Prior to his season debut last Saturday, Helm had logged just 15:35 of ice time over two games in the last 19 months.
“I don’t think I’ve played one game top six in the past 5-6 years so we’ll see what happens,” Helm said. “I have to keep it simple and keep doing what I’ve been doing. I haven’t been the best but it’s an opportunity for a big challenge that it’d be nice to have.
“I can’t change my style,” Helm added. “When I start trying to play a skill game it goes downhill fast so just work hard, get those guys the puck in front of the net, do some hard work and plays will get made.”
Franzen, Weiss and Daniel Cleary have combined to score five goals through 17 games.
“Not enough,” Babcock said when asked about Cleary’s production. “That hasn’t been a good line for us. So we’re going to try something else.”
Zetterberg, Datsyuk and Bertuzzi have 20 goals between them.