Every roster has those guys that are invaluable to the team. They may not score night in and night out but they provide an unparalleled chemistry to the team. Valtteri Filppula is one of those guys. Since his return, the Red Wings are 3-1-1 and could easily have another win to that if someone had scored in the 1-0 OT loss to Columbus. Filppula netted his first goal since returning from a wrist injury in last night's 4-1 loss to Anaheim and five games is a pretty good barometer to see how he's adjusted since coming back.
Although Filppula can definitely put the puck in the back of the net, its not his only specialty. He flat out wins faceoffs and that's exactly where the Red Wings style of puck possession must begin: in the face-off dot. In the four games that I can find stats for (for whatever reason there are no face-off stats from last night's game?), Filppula has a winning percentage 3 of the 4 nights and an even percentage on the remaining night. Along with Darren Helm and Pavel Datsyuk, Filppula has helped the Wings have three solid lines that win face-offs and keep the puck in Detroit's possession for most of the game. This allows them to control the speed of the game, which is something that this year's team has had trouble with in comparison to the teams of the past 3-5 years.
Filppula also plays a very sound game when he doesn't have the puck. In a way, he's like a mini-Datsyuk. He wins face-offs, he can dangle, he takes the puck away, and can forecheck with the best of them. He's also developed his speed into one of his best assets when he doesn't have the puck by both drawing defenders towards him and by closing down attackers at the other end of the ice. He makes great passes and skates very confidently with the puck, leading to few turnovers and chances the other way. Also, like Datsyuk, often guys on the other team go to hit him but end up on their seat instead of Fil so he's got a little bit of a physical edge where players don't expect it.
I noticed several times in the 1-0 OT loss to Columbus that Fil was one of the only guys out there that gave 100% on every shift. Chalk it up to having fresh legs because of sitting out but I think it has to do more with his work ethic. How else does a guy his size go into the corners and win some of the battles that he does against the more gigantic defenders.
Maybe its just me, but I think the Red Wings have played a lot better hockey since #51 has returned from injury. Hopefully he continues to provide the spark that he's capable of for the rest of the year because some of the less experienced guys around him are looking up to him. Mattias Ritola is one of those guys and he has gotten better every game because of the plays that Valtteri sets him up with. Filppula will likely go down to third line once Zetterberg returns on Thursday but all that does is provide more opportunities for the guys that he will be set up with now.