Detroit — If the Red Wings click on their power play like they did at times in March and April, it can be a key ingredient of better success.
Wednesday, for the first time since training camp, they were able to set up two complete units of five top players practicing in their new training center at Little Caesars Arena.
Injured players are returning, Jeff Blashill appreciated the opportunity.
“Well, it was great,” said Blashill, who hopes to have the units in place opening night, and the first regular season game in the new building Thursday, Oct. 5, against the Wild.
“I think the very first power-play practice up in Traverse City we had the same, and then we really haven’t been able to have that group together until today.
“So, we tried to take advantage of it.”
For about 20 minutes, Henrik Zetterberg, Gustav Nyquist, Tomas Tatar and Niklas Kronwall worked as a top unit, with Tatar at a point, and Justin Abdelkader and Riley Sheahan alternating in front of the net.
On the second unit, Nielsen centered Dylan Larkin and Anthony Mantha, with Mike Green and Martin Frk at the points.
With Andreas Athanasiou unsigned, Frk’s potential grows.
His shot is a boomer, and seems capable of playing a fairly stout game.
Blashill liked a lot of what he saw.
“I thought both units looked good,” Blashill said.
“You know, there’s chemistry that was built a year ago that I think was in place today.
“But I also think the other unit, with ‘Frky’ being on it, they seem to have developed chemistry and built it really fast.
“And Nielsen’s been a great man in the middle. So it looks like it could be a real good power play.”
Kronwall has that look in his eyes.
Shaking off some preseason back spasms, and grappling with a knee unlikely to improve much before he calls it a career, the 14-year veteran and Stanley Cup winner looked urgently excited to get back into the lineup Thursday against the Blackhawks.
“I’m going to go tomorrow night,” he said, when asked about the timing of the first opportunity to get back at it.
Kronwall’s eyes and the smile said it all. He is ready to engage.
“I feel pretty good,” he said. “Back’s good, feeling pretty good, so it’s just about getting back into game shape.”
He chuckled when asked about his knee.
“The knee’s doing pretty good,” said Kronwall, 36, whose role in passing on what the Red Wings’ call their culture is significant, with players on the roster the team hopes to develop into stars.
Kronwall first began to appear to slow in the latter half of the 2015-16 season.
Last season, he started similarly but appeared to grow more effective, especially late in the year.
Asked if, as is sometimes the case with veteran defensemen, it is a matter of learning how to play with a chronic infirmity, Kronwall said, “I think I definitely know more of what to expect.”
And then he offered some encouragement that, along with Trevor Daley, the veteran acquired from the Stanley Cup champions, the Penguins, as a free agent, a somewhat improved Kronwall can help shore up a suspect blue line.
“But also, we’re really in a different situation where I’m not behind the eight-ball right from the get-go,” he said. “You know, last year I was chasing it quite a bit, whereas this year, I feel a lot better going in.
“And, again, I know a little bit more of what to expect.”
Kronwall missed the first 11 games due to injury last season, and 25 overall. He played himself back into the game shape he could attain while contending with a bad knee.
He did not score a goal until March 8.
Vast evidence, as if much is needed, of the Red Wings problems on the back end, is that Kronwall managed to finish second among Wings’ defensemen in points with 13. (Mike Green, 36.)
The previous season, Kronwall played in 64 games and tallied 26 points, also second on the team (Green 35)
Blashill said Zetterberg (neck) is likely to play Friday against Mike Babcock’s Maple Leafs. He said Justin Abdelkader (groin) may return Thursday, or Friday
… After practice, the Wings assigned the center Turner Elson to Grand Rapids.
Blackhawks at Red Wings
Faceoff: 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Little Caesars Arena, Detroit.
TV / radio: No TV / WWJ-AM 950
Notes: Based on comments from Blashill, the Red Wings are likely to skate a significant number of players destined for the roster of the defending 2017 Calder Cup Champions, the Griffins.