He was our worst enemy last season. We blamed him for Pavel Datsyuk‘s offensive dry spell mid-season. But when that spell broke, we finally saw the method behind Mike Babcock’s madness:
Justin Abdelkader actually played an integral role on Datsyuk’s line. He was even fifth in goal-scoring for the team this season, hitting a career high in goals.
With the departure of Valtteri Filppula and the additions of Stephen Weiss and Daniel Alfredsson, most people have already made the assumption that the top line will be Datsyuk, Abdelkader, and Henrik Zetterberg, though that remains to be seen. But let’s have some fun with this.
One thing the Red Wings have failed to regain is a Tomas Holmstrom-like player. By a show of hands, how many people find themselves multiple times a game, screaming at the television for any player wearing a winged wheel to just get in the general vicinity of the front of the net?
Let’s not kid ourselves – there will never be another player as good as Holmstrom when it comes to planting their butt in front of the net and getting some ridiculously lucky goals just by deflecting a slapshot from the point. But that doesn’t mean this team has to stop being at the front of the net. That doesn’t mean the Holmstrom role is out of the books for good.
It just needs to be tweaked.
For the past two decades, this Red Wings team has gone for the pretty goals, the flashy goals, the highlight-reel goals. And for the past few seasons, it has frustrated fans to no end, more than in the past. Pretty goals count just as much as dirty, scrambling goals.
On a line with Datsyuk and Zetterberg, you don’t need a guy to pass to, because the Euro Twins have that weird telekinesis where they just know where the other one is on the ice. You need someone who is going to crash the front of the net and create some sort of distraction to take players away from Datsyuk and Zetterberg… or at least give them some breathing room for a few seconds.
Abdelkader is a good grinder. While Datsyuk and Zetterberg throw their weight around from time to time, having someone like Abdelkader with them will certainly help. He can give that physical pressure and also fight, if it’s necessary.
Playing on a line with the Euro Twins, he should take on a role of always hovering around the front of the net. Be ready for a quick rebound off the goalie’s pads. Be ready to poke and prod under a goalie’s glove. Be ready to be shoved away by the opposition.
It’s the nitty-gritty playing this team is going to have to learn at some point, so why not start now? Abdelkader’s not afraid to get his hands a little dirty, and it’s nice to see.
It’s not what Holmstrom’s role was, but it’s a net-front presence, and that’s something this Red Wings team desperately needs. The only question is: Will Abdelkader be able to take on this role consistently?