Kronwall's leadership aiding Wings' winning surge

Gregg Krupa
The Detroit News
Detroit Red Wings defenseman Niklas Kronwall (55) has provided leadership during the team's surge.

Glendale, Ariz. — When the media asks Mike Babcock about his two big stars, he corrects them.

"Well, there's three," Babcock said recently.

The contributions of Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk are often noted. Those of Niklas Kronwall, less so.

On Saturday, the Coyotes skated two of the best offensive defensemen in the game, Oliver Eckman-Larsson and Keith Yandle.

The way Kronwall played, it was as if he was out to prove a point.

He only managed an assist on the score-sheet, on Darren Helm's empty-net goal that sealed the victory.

But he pinched perfectly on the power play and glanced a shot off the cross bar, and had four shots in the game — one fewer than Tomas Tatar and Gustav Nyquist, who lead the Wings.

He was also a plus-two, played 24:13 — three minutes and 16 seconds more than any teammate — and had a hit, a takeaway and a blocked shot.

Just another night for one of the Red Wings' leaders whose leadership is essential in helping bring a developing team to the top of the NHL standings.

At the end of the evening, Kronwall kept on leading.

The penalty kill is fine, he said. There is just one problem: They need it too much.

"I thought we went to the box way too many times," he said, in words that clearly will be heard throughout the room. "But that's kind of how it goes sometimes. We were able to kill it off.'

Then, in his way, Kronwall credited others — Drew Miller, Luke Glendening and Petr Mrazek — despite his own essential contributions when a man down.

As for grazing the shot off the bar, did he think it was in?

"I didn't know where the puck went, to be honest," he said."Everything kind of went fast, there.

"You know, it would have been nice for it to go in. But it doesn't really matter. We got the win. That's all that matters."

Skating below the radar

Alexey Marchenko has been fairly anonymous, in his first three games up from Grand Rapids.

And that's a good thing.

When young defensemen start out in the NHL, anonymity is cherished. If you do not hear their names, it generally means things are going well.

And after Marchenko played 15:26 against the Islanders, 16:08 against the Avalanche and 13:35 against the Coyotes, his coach likes what he sees.

"Smart, right-handed, passes the puck, a good defender," Babcock said, clicking off the 23-year-old Russian's attributes.

At six-feet-three, 210 pounds, Marchenko is also big.

And Babcock's only publicly-stated criticism of the defender will be remedied with time, the coach said.

"He needs pace," Babcock said. "I think if he stays with us, he'll get pace, just by practicing and being around us."

Meanwhile, the first right-handed defenseman for the Red Wings in some time provides a considerable advantage.

If Babcock had his way, he would have three of them, one on each unit.

"It's huge," he said. "It creates offense.

"A forehand creates plays coming out of your zone. That's why the game's supposed to be played like that."

The greater speed and ease of exiting the zone, with Marchenko passing on his forehand — instead of backhand passes or turning to face their mates, as lefties must do — should free Brendan Smith, the other half of the pair, for more offense.

Family matters

The fathers and mentors have had quite a trip.

Excellent weather, except for a bit of snow in Denver. Temperatures ranging from the 60s in Colorado to the low 80s in Arizona.

Two big wins.

And, most importantly, they spent some time with their sons or former young charges.

Asked if they would sleep heavily on the long flight home, Kronwall smiled.

"I think so, yeah," he said. "It's been a long day for most of them.

"A lot of sun, too."