Datsyuk: Passing fancy
Johan Franzen found that out early. After a shift on Datsyuk's line, the Russian made sure to speak with Franzen on the Detroit Red Wings' bench.
"Don't yell," said Datsyuk quietly. "'I know where you are."
Franzen smiled thinking about it. He is in his third season in the NHL, played in Sweden's elite league and in international competitions, but he hasn't had many linemates who claim to see everything on the ice and then back it up with their play.
"He's sick," said Franzen, using English slang as a compliment. "You think that he doesn't see you, but he knows exactly where you are. And he hates when you yell for the puck. Hates it. He wants the other team to forget about you and then he gets you the puck."
Pavel Datsyuk is an admitted pass-aholic. He would much rather pass than shoot, rather stick-handle than set up for a one-timer.
And that's just fine by the Red Wings because Datsyuk has developed a good shot that he will use. Since 2003-04, only Henrik Zetterberg has scored more goals for the Red Wings than Datsyuk (87).
Lost in Zetterberg's remarkable opening -- he has a franchise record 15-game point streak from season's start and leads the NHL in scoring -- is that his linemate, Datsyuk, has helped turned the Swede into a sniper.
Entering Thursday night's games, Datsyuk was third in the NHL with 14 assists in 15 games.
"I like passing," said Datsyuk. "When somebody scores in an open net after my pass is the best. If somebody says, 'Would you rather score or have somebody score off your pass?' … I'd say pass."
Datsyuk's shot needed work when he started in the NHL.
Now in his sixth season in the league, Datsyuk has improved greatly in that department. His teammates have teased him in the locker room about wicked high slap shots that he unleashes in practice and on occasion in games.
"When I played in Russia, I practiced more passing," said Datsyuk. "I passed a lot more than shoot. I didn't have a strong shot. I didn't have much sting on my slap shot. Now I do. My slap shot needed more work.
"We have bigger rinks (in Russia). Everybody tries to be closer to the net to shoot it. Here, every shot is danger. In Russia, you can have the best shot and it's still not dangerous. It's a different style over there."
Aside from being a bigger part of the Russian game, passing is also a natural inclination for Datsyuk. The forward spends significant time after practices working on skills like saucer passes and games of keep-away.
"People who don't play hockey probably don't even see 20 percent of the small things he does," said Franzen of Datsyuk. "He knows all the tricks. Hitting the other guy's stick so he can't get the puck. It looks so easy, but it's not. You don't want to play against him."