Despite trying to derail his offensive production, the Phoenix Coyotes coaches and players can’t help but admire Pavel Datsyuk’s skills.
“He’s an all-world player,” Coyotes coach Dave Tippett told the media after Game 2. “We’ve tried a couple of different match-ups against him that haven’t worked, so we’ll keep trying until we can find the solution.”
Phoenix better find the answer tonight or the Coyotes could find themselves in a 3-0 hole. It will look more like a gorge if Datsyuk keeps up his exceptional play.
A four-point night by the Russian star in Game 2 has propelled the Red Wings to a 2-0 series lead. He has also registered 12 shots on goal in the first two contests and a plus-4 rating.
“He’s been incredible,” Coyotes captain Shane Doan said. “As a player, you want to do anything you can to stop him. But as a fan, he’s so much fun to watch. You tip your hat to the things he does. You have to find a way to make sure not to give him any free opportunities.”
While his statistics in the first two games have been impressive, one move in particular in Game 2 caught the eye of players on both teams.
Datsyuk was racing for a loose puck with Coyotes defenseman Keith Yandle, and with one hand on his stick, he chipped the puck past Yandle and managed to gain a positional advantage.
With Yandle at his hip, Datsyuk had very few options for a shot on goalie Ilya Bryzgalov. He put the stick between his legs and snapped a shot. Bryzgalov made the save but kicked the puck to the front of the net where Red Wings forward Darren Helm banged home the rebound.
“It’s pretty amazing,” Red Wings goalie Jimmy Howard said. “I was completely shocked when he pulled that move off. It was pretty cool.”
The amazement was not left to just Datsyuk’s teammates.
“You don’t know what he’s going to do because he’s full of tricks,” Yandle said. “He’s the only one who knows what he’s going to do, and it’s tough to play against him when he’s feeling this good.”
With Henrik Zetterberg not expected back for at least Game 3, Datsyuk’s dominating play becomes that much more important to Detroit’s chances to advance.
But numbers don’t do Datsyuk justice. His importance to the Red Wings goes much further.
Detroit has been uncharacteristically undisciplined in the series, giving the Coyotes two, nearly two-minute, 5-on-3 power plays.
Who did Detroit rely on to help try to kill those penalties? Datsyuk.
Killing the first of these 5-on-3 power-play opportunities – in Game 1 – may have been the turning point after Phoenix carried the play early. Although the Coyotes scored on the second 5-on-3, it took them nearly the entire duration to finally find the net.
Not only is Datsyuk willing to block shots and back-check, but his ability to carry the puck allows Detroit to play a lot less in the defensive zone.
“When he has the puck, we’re not playing defense and we feel better about ourselves,” Detroit coach Mike Babcock said. “He’s an elite, elite player. We need him to be good each and every night.”
So far, Datsyuk has not disappointed.