Henrik Zetterberg feels better physically this season than he has in a long time.
That’s in direct contrast to 2013-14, when the Detroit Red Wings captain continued to deal with a back issue that had nagged him for the previous few years. And finally, after Team Sweden’s first game of the Winter Olympic Tournament in Sochi, Russia last year, Zetterberg’s back had had it.
He came back to the United States, where he had surgery to remove part of a disc that was rubbing against a nerve and missed the remainder of the regular season and didn’t return until the final two games of Detroit’s five-game first-round playoff loss to the Boston Bruins.
Zetterberg, 34, who was limited to 45 regular-season games last season, didn’t really know what to expect coming into this season, his 12th in the NHL.
“It’s been good, it’s been fun to be playing,” Zetterberg said. “Last year I just want to scratch from the memory bank. This year coming in I didn’t really know how to feel. I’ve been skating well. I’ve been feeling good health-wise.”
He said his rehab regimen is a big reason for it.
“I never been through a surgery before so I didn’t know what to expect,” Zetterberg said. “The rehab is really important to get that right and I feel good now. I play a physical sport. You never know what could happen.”
The center leads the Red Wings with 49 points (15 goals and 34 assists in 54 games) and continues to provide the leadership that made him a no-brainer to succeed Nicklas Lidstrom as the Red Wings captain.
“He’s the one that gets us ready for games. He’s the one that leads us every single night,” Detroit teammate and linemate Gustav Nyquist said. “He brings it every night. The way he’s performed all throughout the season he’s been our best player, arguably.”
Said Red Wings and Team Sweden teammate Niklas Kronwall: “He’s captain for a reason, he’s our engine. I think right now he’s probably playing the best he ever has.”
Nobody appreciates that more than Red Wings coach Mike Babcock.
“He’s determined and he’s calm and he knows what’s going on and he understands what’s right,” Babcock said. “He elevates his game when it matters.”
Nyquist gave a couple of examples of what makes Zetterberg so good.
“You play with Z you get to touch the puck a lot,” Nyquist said. “That’s a fun thing. I get to keep the puck. Your line is real strong in the O-zone, hanging onto it. For me personally, I just try to find open spots for him to find me and he usually does.
“And in the D-zone, on the breakout pass he’s always in the right spot. He does things right. I’m just fortunate to be playing with him.”
Playing with young, talented players like Nyquist has helped Zetterberg, too.
“Also been playing with some fun linemates,” he said. “Young guys that kind of keep me feeling a little younger.”
That’s is direct contract to the way he felt in Sochi after that first game of the Olympics.
“Seeing what he went through in Sochi was not pretty, it’s not something I would ever like to see a friend go through again,” Kronwall said.
Obviously, Zetterberg is also a great example to the young players.
“That helps the development of the younger guys to see how bad they (Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk) want it, how much work they put in,” Kronwall said. “When they see that they want to follow.”
And they do.