Playing with pain is new reality for Wings’ Kronwall

Gregg Krupa, The Detroit News
Niklas Kronwall

Detroit – Niklas Kronwall craves playing along the Detroit Red Wings’ blue line again. It is written in his face.

Sitting around watching while trying to maintain conditioning is not enjoyable, especially with practice time sparse. But, Kronwall said, the Wings’ winning streak makes it better.

“I don’t want to say too much,” the veteran defenseman said about the timing of his return from chronic knee problems and a surgery last season.

Kronwall stood at his dressing stall Saturday after practicing a bit harder in the morning skate than he has, to date.

“Today was the first time we started getting into a little battling stuff,” he said. “Hopefully, we’ll do more and more of that in the next week and then we’ll go from there.

“Everything’s going to be kind of based on how it reacts. But it definitely feels like we are on the right track.”

Injuries, the passing of time and some long schedules played deep into the playoffs in several of the 35-year-old’s 12 seasons with the Wings have all taken their toll on Kronwall’s knees.

Vanek out, Howard starts for Wings vs. Bruins

He acknowledged Saturday that he must now manage pain.

He said he is concerned especially about competing in battles on the ice, and he cannot say what kind of performance he can generate after a disappointing season last year, which included opting for the surgery and an unexpectedly long recovery.

Having watched Kronwall through the years, Red Wings fans likely know he is not only keen on returning, but unlikely to stop short from doing all it takes.

“It’s getting closer, that’s for sure,” he said. “It’s been feeling really good here of late. So, hopefully, in the near future, I’ll be practicing more with the team and we’ll go from there.

“I’ve been skating with our strength coach (Mike Kadar) for some time now, and it’s time that I get to start practicing with the team and get into real hockey condition, and make sure on all the battling stuff we can tolerate that. Hopefully we can do that in the near future.”

Kronwall admitted he is likely to be in pain when he plays: “It’s probably going to stick around, but like I said, it’s starting to feel better and hopefully I can manage it.”

Kronwall, a vaunted warrior on the roster for more than a decade, described his situation as frustrating, especially with some ups and down in his recovery and during the offseason.

“It’s definitely been a challenging process, a bit of a roller-coaster ride,” he said. “There are other people who have it a lot worse than myself, and the team’s been winning. That’s been helping a lot.

“The first few games were tough. But since then we’ve done a lot of good things. There’s still some room for improvement. But it’s definitely nice to see that we are getting points.”

Because of the World Cup of Hockey, Kronwall said, it is more difficult to find quality practice time. All NHL teams have less practice time this year.

How much does he have left to give in his career?

“That’s a good question,” he said. “And I guess we won’t know until I come back. But I feel like I got a lot left.”

His coach has strong confidence in Kronwall, and clearly anticipates his return.

“Every year in the NHL the schedule makes it hard to practice, and this year is magnified because of the condensed schedule,” Jeff Blashill said. “So it makes it really hard for a guy like Kronwall to get yourself ready to play, and make sure you’re ready to play.

“In his case, it’s the battling. And he hasn’t had an opportunity to do a lot of battling. He can skate without battling, but it’s the battling that’s going to be the biggest thing.”

Blashill indicated he understands Kronwall’s circumstances are somewhat permanent now.

“This is something he’s going to have to continue to battle, I’m sure, the rest of his career,” he said, of the problematic knee. “There’s no quick fix to this. It’s going to be a matter of maintenance and handling it the right way.

“You know, Nick’s as big a warrior as you have in hockey,” Blashill said. “He’s as tough a guy as I know. We’ve just got to get him up to game speed as fast as we can.”

Tomas Jurco

Outlook for Jurco

Another broken Wing is Tomas Jurco, who injured his back over the summer and opted for surgery.

It will be at least two or three weeks before he can return, he said.

“We’ll see how it’s going to go,” Jurco said, confirming that a return in mid-to-late November was about what the original timing suggested, after the surgery.

He said he feels “great,” and that his conditioning is going well: “It feels pretty good. I’ve been working very hard. Of course, it’s a little different, running the treadmill and doing all the work, instead of the game or practicing with the team.”

Like Kronwall, Jurco is working extensively, including on the ice, with Kadar.

“That helped me a lot and I feel very good,” Jurco said. “But I still have a few weeks left.”

Miller: ‘Good to be back’

Drew Miller is one player whose offseason surgery and recovery were timed for his full return at the start of the season.

With two goals and a level plus/minus rating, even with his extensive penalty-killing duties, Miller has appeared healthy and fit. And he has been effective, especially in his important defensive role.

“The knee’s been good,” said Miller, a former Spartans player who was looking forward to watching some of the Michigan versus Michigan State football game Saturday afternoon.

“First couple of games, it’s good to be back,” he said. “It’s tough to miss that many games and be away from the game. But it’s nice to be back, and to get those goals.”

Panthers at Red Wings

Faceoff: Sunday, 5 p.m., Joe Louis Arena, Detroit

TV / radio: Fox Sports Detroit / 97.1 FM

Notable: The Wings will have played the night before, while the Panthers had a Saturday matinee in Buffalo before flying across Lake Erie for the Sunday evening start. … This is a grudge match for the Red Wings, who were embarrassed in their 4-1 loss to the Panthers Oct. 15, when they were outshot 42-22 and thoroughly outclassed. … Former Wings player Gerard Gallant’s team has lost five of six games after losing a shutout to the Sabres, 3-2, and was grappling with injuries to three forwards: Nick Bjugstad (broken hand), Jonathan Huberdeau (achilles) and Jussi Jokinen (knee). … Petr Mrazek would likely start for the Wings in second of back-to-back games.