By: Will Burchfield
It’d be one thing if the Red Wings were winning.
But Henrik Zetterberg’s goal drought has overlapped with the team’s five-game losing streak, which makes things a lot harder on the humble captain.
“Yeah, it does. Obviously. It’s not fun when you don’t score, so I take a big responsibility in that,” Zetterberg said following the Red Wings’ 4-1 loss to the Kings on Tuesday night in which he was held without a goal for the 18th straight game.
It’s the longest drought of his 15-year career.
Is it affecting him?
Perhaps a better question is this: How could it not?
“Hank’s a big time competitor, he’s a big-time warrior,” said Jeff Blashill. “He wants to help this team win.”
And lately, he hasn’t been able to do that. Not in the goal column, at least. Not in the tangible ways that people care about.
Since his slump began on Oct. 20, the Red Wings have six victories in 18 games. (That includes five overtime losses.) It wasn’t so glaring at first, not with the team finding ways to win. But with Detroit now stuck in its second long skid of the season, the captain’s struggles are impossible to ignore.
A less confident player might start gripping his stick. A more irascible one might snap it. As we’re reminded time and time again, that’s not Zetterberg’s way.
“I don’t know if it’s wearing on him,” said Blashill. “He’s been through lots of this throughout his career. The year I was here as an assistant (in 2011-12), the first half of the year was a real struggle for him and he was unreal the second half.
“He’ll keep doing what he does, which is work his ass off and compete like crazy, and I think in the end he’ll get results.”
Through the first 52 games of the 2011-12 season, Zetterberg had nine goals and 35 points. He endured a 13-game goal drought in December and January. In the final 30 games, he had 13 goals and 34 points. He finished the year as Detroit’s leading scorer.
Of course, that team was atop the standings for much of the season en route to 48 wins and 102 points. Zetterberg’s paltry first-half numbers were masked by the group’s larger success. He’d also yet to inherit the ‘C’ from Nicklas Lidstrom.
How times have changed.
As Zetterberg has stepped squarely into the spotlight, the supporting stars have slunk toward the wings. Amid this five-game losing streak, forwards Gustav Nyquist, Tomas Tatar, Frans Nielsen, Justin Abdelkader, Andreas Athanasiou, Dylan Larkin and Anthony Mantha have combined for five goals.
No, it’s not secondary scoring the Wings have been missing of late. That diagnosis would excuse too many players who are considered primary pieces.
“I think we’ve had secondary scoring,” said Blashill. “(David) Booth had two the other night and Glenny’s (Luke Glendening) got five. I don’t know who else goes into that term, but we certainly need to score more.”
The Wings had plenty of opportunities on Wednesday night, as they have in most of their recent losses. In keeping with the script, they weren’t able to cash in. Not when it mattered, not when the game was there for the taking.
Particularly in the second period, Jonathan Quick had them looking toward the rafters.
“I thought we created a lot of chances, but we couldn’t get the puck behind him,” said Zetterberg. “He made some good saves. At the same time, we have to find a way to be more determined.”
That goes for everyone. Zetterberg will wear the team’s slump because he wears the team’s ‘C’ — and that’s what good captains do — but there’s plenty of blame to be shared.