Will Datsyuk ignite Hossa
Pavel Datsyuk will be making his series debut against Pittsburgh tonight, according to Detroit coach Mike Babcock, ending a seven-game absence because of an injury that is officially listed as being in his foot.
Having his regular centerman back could be the tonic for Marian Hossa’s scoring woes. Hossa, the Red Wings’ leading goal scorer during the regular season, has no goals and two assists through the first four games of the Stanley Cup final. He has scored goals in only three of the Red Wings’ 20 playoff games.
“Him and Pav got off to a tough start in the playoffs and it didn't go good,” said Babcock. “And then that guy named Pav isn't here. I don't know if you've noticed that. So that affects lots of things. It affects lots of people. And it's been harder for him.”
Datsyuk resumed practicing with the team eight days ago, but didn’t start going hard in drills until Wednesday. Datsyuk practiced for 90 minutes Thursday morning and said he was going to be a game-time decision for Game 4.
But Detroit trainer Piet Van Zant texted Babcock at 3 p.m. Thursday afternoon saying: “He didn't think Pav would be going,” according to Babcock. “He still went for warm-up though. Pavel was pushing it to try to go. But Piet gave me the head's up.”
Apparently, Datsyuk was close to returning because Babcock announced that his MVP finalist would be in the lineup for Game 5, Friday afternoon, not waiting for any more game-day on-ice tests.
“We've heard all the chatter about him (Datsyuk) coming back,” said Pittsburgh defenseman Brooks Orpik. “It doesn't change anything for us to be honest. Even if he does come back, we all have a lot of respect for the player he is. But that being said, I don't know how effective he's going to be if he comes back and he's playing at whatever level he's playing at. Like I said, we're not too concerned about that. I think throughout the playoffs we've just been more concerned with the way we're playing.”
Datsyuk’s return will likely bump either Ville Leino or Kirk Maltby out of the lineup. Leino sat early in the post-season while Maltby played if that’s an indication of what Babcock will do tonight. That lineup change is also assuming the Kris Draper remains in the lineup and Justin Abdelkader out – a switch made for Game 4 in Pittsburgh.
Datsyuk’s return would be an obvious lift for the Red Wings, who have lost the past two games and watched the series be knotted at 2-2.
As Detroit’s leading point scorer in the regular season and with Hossa on his wing, Datsyuk’s line would force the Penguins to match up against two scoring lines.
Pittsburgh’s No. 1 match-up defense pair is Hal Gill and Rob Scuderi, who have been going against Henrik Zetterberg’s line. That would leave Orpik and Sergei Gonchar to check Datsyuk’s line.
Up front, Pittsburgh isn’t blessed with the same defensive talent as the Red Wings. Datsyuk and Zetterberg were both Selke Trophy finalist last spring. Draper is a previous winner of that award.
Both Datsyuk and Zetterberg could be used in a defensive role against Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. Crosby has drawn Detroit’s top defense in this series, but Malkin has been the Penguins’ top offensive player.
Neither Crosby nor Malkin, however, is as defensively skilled as Datsyuk and Zetterberg.
“We'd like Pav to have the puck for 18 or 20 minutes like he normally does,” said Babcock. “That's a great concept. When he has the puck, they don't have it. It's not even playing defense, you just have the puck. You don't have to worry about it. Plus you're faster coming out of your zone. You're faster in the neutral zone.”
And that all suits Hossa’s game perfectly. The high-scoring winger played a lot of the regular season on Datsyuk’s right side. Hossa’s shoot-first mentality matched well with Datsyuk’s pass-first style.
“Here's always this talk when one of the best players cannot play,” said Hossa. “And it's basically, you know, it would be a huge boost and help for the team if Pav can play.”