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Pavel Datsyuk Must Recover His Game if Detroit Red Wings Are to Improve

Matt Hutter@mahutter12Analyst IDecember 8, 2009

DETROIT - OCTOBER 10:  Pavel Datsyuk #13 of the Detroit Red Wings looks on during the game against the Washington Capitals on October 10, 2009 at Joe Louis Arena in Detroit, Michigan. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

In a season fraught with them, identifying disturbing trends in Detroit is hardly a tough task these days.

Yet, perhaps one of the most troubling developments for the Detroit Red Wings this season has gone relatively unreported: Pavel Datsyuk is not himself.

Through 27 games played, Datsyuk has 21 points (7 G, 14 A) and a plus-three rating. This is slightly off his progress through the same number of games last season that saw him amass 29 points and a plus-5 rating.

Not a huge drop off, especially considering Datsyuk is a bit of a slow starter.

However, this year, Pavel is not sharing the offensive load with the likes of Marian Hossa and Johan Franzen.

This season, Datsyuk, who is already one of the cornerstones of the franchise, has had his role increased due to off-season roster losses and injuries to current players.

If anything, his point totals should be well above where they were a year ago.

Despite the much increased need for Datsyuk's uncanny offensive abilities, he is on pace for his lowest season point total since his sophomore season in 2002-03.

While it is true that one can look at numbers and derive nearly any conclusion they wish, watching Datsyuk play this season reveals trends even more disturbing than his declining point totals.

For example, last Sunday against the Rangers, Datsyuk came busting down the left side into the offensive zone, crossed the blue-line, made a deke move to beat a defender and then had the puck knocked away and out of the zone.

It would be ridiculous to look at this isolated incident and extrapolate any valuable conclusions from it, save for the fact that this type of thing has occurred game in and game out.

For a man that has been considered one of, if not the best, one-on-one players in the league to suddenly be routinely thwarted in the offensive zone, suggests that something psychological or physical is hampering Datsyuk's play.

With Franzen and Filppula out for extended periods of time, the success of Datsyuk and fellow franchise pillar, Henrik Zetterberg, is made even more critical.

For his part, Zetterberg has been Detroit's most consistent player this season, playing at a point-per-game pace.

But his friend and frequent line-mate is just not the player he has been for the past several seasons.

For years, Pavel coming in with speed at the blue-line left defenders with two options: you can go No. 1 in your hockey pants, or No. 2 in your hockey pants.

By the time they made their decision, Pavel was usually well past them and celebrating a goal with his line-mates.

This season, Datsyuk has looked beatable more often than not.

It could be that the rest of the league has finally figured out how to stop him.

Yet, his inability to consistently execute the way he always has suggests he's giving the opposition a lot of help.

To the inexperienced observer, these concerns may seem silly or the result of a fan expecting too much of one player.

However, for those that have watched Pavel Datsyuk routinely turn defenders into pretzels, I suspect these observations are equally troubling.

Simply put, at a time when the Red Wings desperately need Pavel Datsyuk to be Pavel Datsyuk, he is currently a shadow of himself.

Much like the entirety of his team, Datsyuk must find himself, and soon, if the Red Wings are to improve their season.

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