Mike Babcock has always been a coach who frequently likes to mix up his lines, and now his latest first-line combination of Gustav Nyquist, Henrik Zetterberg, and Justin Abdelkader is appearing to be a genius move for the Detroit Red Wings. The decision to make this his top-line initially took place on January 11th when the Wings took on the Los Angeles Kings, but it took some time for the three to gel together.
Detroit went 2-3-0 and only scored six goals as a team in the first five games following the decision to play Zetterberg, Nyquist, and Abdelkader together. Since then, this has been the Red Wings’ top-line in four of the past six games (Zetterberg missed two games with an injury). Over the course of those four games (1/22 vs. Chicago, 1/24 vs. Montreal, 1/31 vs. Washington, and 2/2 at Washington), the Wings have a 3-0-1 record while scoring 16 goals.
Of the team’s 16 goals in these games Zetterberg, Nyquist, and Abdelkader have all been on the ice for eight and 11 have occurred with at least two of them on the ice. Not only are they just one the ice when these goals have been scored, they are the ones creating the chances and racking up points. Zetterberg has seven assists and eight total points, Nyquist has scored six goals and recorded nine points, and Abdelkader has a goal and three assists of his own.
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Filling up the score sheet isn’t the only reason why this line looking like a magnificent decision, the talents of these three players compliment one another exceptionally.
The only criticism to be made about Nyquist’s game is that he holds onto the puck for too long at times, looking for the perfect pass. Playing alongside Zetterberg, who is one of the league’s best passers, allows him to step aside from having to be his line’s facilitator. Nyquist can now focus more on creating plays with his speed in the open ice, whether he has the puck or not.
Abdelkader has the offensive skills to be the prominent goal scorer of a third-line, but that isn’t where he excels the best at. His game is best suited to play the role of the hard-nosed tough guy who does all the little things in order to create scoring chances. Whether it is to set screens or clean up the rebounds, he is great at getting to the front of the net. Then when it’s his time to score, he can always be counted on to bury it into the back of the net.
Zetterberg is best suited on a line that features another prominent goal-scorer, he is exceptional at passing players open and it takes another great hockey-mind to visualize and anticipate the passes that Zetterberg makes. Nyquist fits into his game as a perfect compliment. Zetterberg has developed into a great leader who can either score three goals or assist on three goals, on any given day.
Babcock’s move to play these three together is really starting to pan out and he should continue to do so when Pavel Datsyuk returns to the lineup.