There was a time at Joe Louis Arena, not long ago, when they would interview a long-time season-ticket holder during a break in the action on the overhead scoreboard.
One of the question they'd ask, "Who is your favorite Red Wing?"
Most nights the answer: "Pavel Datsyuk."
There are two things Datsyuk does better than any player I've ever seen - stickhandle and take the puck off opposing forwards. He is also an adroit playmaker, and has excellent snap and wrist shots, although he doesn't deploy them nearly enough.
Count me among those who have long lauded Datsyuk as one of the best players in the world, and that, if anything, he is underrated outside of Detroit.
Yet, in truth, it's been awhile since Datsyuk, 36, has been that great player. He missed nearly as many games as he played last season because of a knee ailment. He played brilliantly for Russia at the Olympics, although his team was crushed, and he had one terrific playoff game for the Red Wings last spring (the only one they won vs. Boston, which was not a coincidence). He was hurt (shoulder) in the first preseason game this season. It's almost like he hasn't been part of the team, nor that Red Wings are depending on him. It's been more like Datsyuk, at 36, has become an more an "X" factor than a great player.
Well, he's back tonight for the Red Wings at Montreal.
TSN still rated Datsyuk as the 17th best player in the world, but he was less than a point per game player last season, and just plus one.
If the Red Wings have Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg really back and rolling as a 1-2 punch, it greatly changes the dynamic of what they are capable of accomplishing this season. You saw what Zetterberg did against Toronto over the weekend. It was special. Is Pavel Datsyuk still special?
We're about to find out.
My column. Nice win, but will the Lions have the same competitive character when it really counts: http://www.theoaklandpress.com/sports/20141019/pat-caputo-nice-win-but-will-the-detroit-lions-have-competitive-character-when-it-really-counts
My column. The only thing Michigan has going for it against MSU is desperation: http://www.theoaklandpress.com/sports/20141018/pat-caputo-desperation-only-will-be-on-the-side-of-michigan-at-msu
My column. The Tigers won't get better unless Dave Dombrowski does: http://www.theoaklandpress.com/sports/20141015/pat-caputo-detroit-tigers-wont-get-better-unless-general-manager-dave-dombrowski-does