Kronwall's return boosts Wings' blue line

Gregg Krupa
The Detroit News
Niklas Kronwall had two assists in his return from injury Saturday.

Sunrise, Fla. — Niklas Kronwall seemed to have suffered a disastrous injury March 12 against the Rangers when he got tangled up with Andreas Athanasiou, as both players hurried back to defend a rush.

Kronwall sprained his right knee and was expected to out one to three weeks.

After seven days, he returned Saturday and picked up two assists, one on the tying goal and one on the winning goal.

Kronwall also had two shots, blocked four and was a plus-one.

While he appears at times to have slowed this season, the 35-year-old defender remains a mainstay on the blue line and an essential leader, especially on an increasingly young developing roster.

Henrik Zetterberg said that a good deal of the exuberance in the Wings dressing room after the game was directed toward their alternate captain and veteran of 12 seasons, Kronwall.

The Wings certainly were better off with him against a Panthers’ attack that features both considerable offense and size up front.

“Ultimate teammate, ultimate warrior, ultimate competitor, it was great to have him in the lineup,” Jeff Blashill said.

“Assists or no assists, it was great to have him in the lineup.”

Mrazek not well

Petr Mrazek still is not feeling quite up to par.

After putting on his equipment, stretching, participating in a couple of goalie’s skill drills under the eye of Jim Bedard, the Red Wings’ goaltending coach, and taking some shots at the optional morning skate, Saturday, Mrazek sat on a bench in front of his stall in the visitor’s dressing room at the BB&T Center.

The Wings No. 1 goalie — whose excellent play from mid-December through mid-February kept the team near the top of the Atlantic Division, despite a dearth of offense — was not his usual, upbeat self.

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“Well, I went out there for just like 15 minutes,” he said. “So, we’ve all been better. But I hope it’s going to be gone soon."

Mrazek explained that he started feeling somewhat sick about two days before it really hit. Then, after arriving in Columbus Wednesday, he woke up in the middle of the night feeling quite ill with a flu.

“I just woke up in the middle of the night feeling sick," he said. "So, it’s kind of tough.”

Other Red Wings have had the flu in recent weeks, but Mrazek’s strain seems stronger. Training staff could be heard Friday advising him to drink a lot of fluids and rest.

“I’m not going to dress as the backup,” he said, of the game Saturday against Florida. “I need probably a couple of more practices, afterwards.”

The Wings have Sunday off.

“I hope Monday will be a better day,” he said.

The Red Wings practice Monday in Tampa, play the Lightning Tuesday and return to Detroit Wednesday, when a practice is tentatively scheduled.

Meanwhile, Jimmy Howard is playing well and has now won two in a row.

Nice landing

It did not work out for Jakub Kindl in Detroit, but he has landed in a good spot with the Atlantic Division-leading Panthers. “Yeah, definitely,” Kindl said. “It wasn’t easy for me, at the start, especially what I went through.

“But this team gave me the opportunity, and they wanted me.

“It was an easy transition, coming into a team that’s been rolling all year long. That was a key, and it helped me out a lot.”

Kindl spent a decade in the Red Wings system, after he was drafted in the first round, 19th overall, in 2005. There were big hopes that Kindl might one day help replace Nicklas Lidstrom as an offensively proficient defenseman.

But after many attempts, it was not to be. And, this season, Kindl fell on the Wings depth chart with improved play from Brendan Smith, Alexey Marchenko’s emergence as an NHL defenseman, the offseason acquisition of Mike Green and even the status of Xavier Ouellet, who remains in Grand Rapids despite outstanding play for consecutive seasons in the AHL.

“Last two years, we’ve all been looking for a right-handed defenseman, and as you looked at our roster we had a lot of good left-handed defensemen,” Kindl said.

“So, someone has to be the odd man out. Obviously, it ended up being me.

“It was a little disappointment, but it’s all in the past and I’m just looking for a fresh start.”