Over the first nine games of the season Daniel Cleary struggled to keep up with the pace of play and Wings fans were calling for him to be demoted. Over those nine games Cleary looked terrible. His legs were not under him, he still looked hurt, and he picked up 18 penalty minutes, a -3 plus/minus, and zero points.
In his tenth game, Cleary finally pulled through and posted his first point of the season; a goal in which he drove to the net and put in his own rebound. It seemed that the flood gate were now going to open now for the snake bitten Cleary, but other plans were in the work.
It seemed as if he was finally fitting into his roll with the third line when Todd Bertuzzi went down with a sore back. Cleary was thrust onto a line with Datsyuk and Filppula and the problems started rolling back in for him. Usually playing on a line with Datsyuk means more production, but Cleary took a step back. He could not keep up with the tougher competition and ended up being beat over and over. Over his first 5 games with Datsyuk; Cleary had 0 points, 4 penalty minutes, and a -3 plus/minus, as a comparison Datsyuk, his line-mate, had 6 points over the same time frame.
Through all of Cleary’s struggles he continues to push forward an compete at a high level. When things weren’t going well for him at the beginning of the season, he kept pushing himself to do more in order to help the team. In the end this might have been Cleary’s problem, because he is not someone who can put a team on his back. With Datsyuk on his line, Cleary can take a back seat and let the play come to him. This change in philosophy has not only helped Cleary contribute, but it has helped the team overall.
With Cleary simplifying his play, it seems his troubles have faded away. Over the past six games, Cleary has 6 points and has turned himself into a solid net front presence, most notably on the power play.
The Red Wings are paying $3 million for Cleary this season and for a player who is on pace to score 12 goals and tally 20 points in a shortened season, it is a pretty good deal.
When/if Todd Bertuzzi and Valtteri Filppula return from injury, I expect Cleary to return to his third line duties. The third line suits his grinding play better and he can bring more experience to the line. It will be a sad day when Joakim Andersson and/or Tomas Tatar are sent back down to Grand Rapids though.