Ericsson returns from injury to fortify Wings' blue line

Ted Kulfan
The Detroit News
Sidney Crosby scores against Petr Mrazek during the third period Thursday night.

Detroit — Maybe it took a little longer than defenseman Jonathan Ericsson anticipated.

But Ericsson was back in the Red Wings lineup Thursday, after sitting out two weeks with a right shoulder injury.

“I could probably have played sooner, but it was a matter of it being games 35 or 36 (and not the playoffs) and so on,” said Ericsson, who missed five games altogether. “The doctors and (training) staff took that decision (out of my hands) and they’ve been through this before a lot more times than I have, and they know when it’s time to play better than me.

“But now I feel ready and it shouldn’t put me back in my recovery by playing tonight. That’s my thought and it seems to be their thought as well.”

Ericsson replaced Jakub Kindl in the lineup. In 32 games this season, Ericsson was averaging almost 20 minutes per game (19:32) and has a plus-7 rating.

“He’s done a real good for us all season long,” coach Jeff Blashill said. “He’s obviously real big (6-foot-4, 220-pounds), can skate real well and a big body who can handle, we think, the best players in the world and that’s what with (Danny) DeKeyser they were matched up doing.”

Ericsson returned to the lineup paired with DeKeyser, a defensive pairing that was evolving into the shutdown pair Blashill assumed they would be.

“Certainly it gives us another defensive weapon,” Blashill said.

Ericsson was paired mostly with Niklas Kronwall last season and most of the early part of this season, but was developing chemistry with DeKeyser before the injury.

“It’s a role that was given to us and it worked well so far,” Ericsson said. “It’s easy to play with him, we communicate out there real well, and I like it so far.”

Ericsson doesn’t feel conditioning will be an issue after having been able to skate on his own, or doing some drills with the team, the last week.

“I don’t even like staying away for two days from the ice, but I had to chance to skate every day which helps,” Ericsson said. “It’s not like game conditions but it’s as close as you can get, when you get the chance to skate every day, so that’s a positive thing.”

Tradition time

Playing on New Year’s Eve at Joe Louis Arena is one of the more underrated traditions surrounding the Red Wings.

With a festive and roaring crowd, the games generally have a different feeling from a typical regular season crowd.

And, for the players, not being on the road is a bonus.

“It’s always nice being at home on New Year’s Eve,” forward Justin Abdelkader said. “You have all the fans, and they have all that enjoyment out of it, and the tradition has been longstanding.

“It’s just exciting to be part of it and excited to have the game at home.”

Said forward Tomas Tatar: “For sure you feel the excitement, and you see the fans having fun (in the stands). It’s a little special, a little different for sure.”

Tatar and several teammates were planning to get together after the game to ring in the New Year — but nothing too big.

“We fly to Buffalo the next day,” said Tatar, of the unforgiving regular season schedule. “A few guys will get together somewhere to celebrate the New Year, but we’ll go home (soon afterward) because we have to leave the next day. Nothing you can do about it. You have to focus on your work.”

Ice chips

Blashill started goaltender Petr Mrazek, but wasn’t thinking further out into the schedule, and whether Mrazek would get the majority of starts over slumping Jimmy Howard.

“I’m going to look at very short-term, and my focus is on tonight’s game,” Blashill said.

…Forward Tomas Nosek remained in the lineup, playing his fourth consecutive game since being recalled from Grand Rapids.

“He’s very accountable defensively, wins pucks battles,” Blashill said. “He’s looked real comfortable on the penalty kill. He’s been what I thought he’d be, and that’s a real good hockey player.”

Nosek has knocked Joakim Andersson out of the lineup the last two games.

…Blashill said he’s likely to play Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk together on the power play — the two combined for Datsyuk’s goal Tuesday — depending on how the game situation unfolds.