Kronwall healthy, eager to begin what could be final season

Ted Kulfan
The Detroit News
Niklas Kronwall

Detroit – Niklas Kronwall returned to the Detroit Red Wings lineup Thursday and he wasn’t expecting to exit from it this season anytime soon.

Kronwall, 37, returned after missing the opening three games with a lower-body injury.

Heading into what generally is being considered Kronwall’s final season – he’s admitted on several occasions it could be – Kronwall doesn’t expect to take any time off to heal any aches or pains.

“I’m going into his with no plan but to play as many games as I possibly can,” said Kronwall, who has dealt with chronic knee problems for most of his career. “Same thing with practices. I don’t how many practices I missed last year but I don’t think it was very many.

“I feel good right now and I have no plans to take any extra time off, because I feel when I practice more and play more, my body just feels better. I’m hoping to practice and play as much as I can.”

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Kronwall only missed three games last season after adjusting his off- and in-season training.

“It allowed me to train a certain way in the summer and that also allowed me to play all through the season,” Kronwall said. “The pool here helps a lot; I’ve spent time in that. 

“Last year I actually felt pretty good, to be honest with you, compared to years before that.”

Given the state of the Wings’ defense, with so many injuries to veterans and four rookies getting considerable playing time, Kronwall wants to be a model, of sorts, for the young players to follow on and off the ice.

“It’s more than just playing on the ice,” Kronwall said. “You have to do it every day. Either practice or games, you work out, you have to eat right, sleep, how do you handle the media, fans, just things like that.

“It’s also becoming an adult. A lot of these guys are real young but they carry themselves real well and I have no doubt it’ll be a pretty easy transition for them.”

Getting Kronwall back in the lineup was a huge plus for coach Jeff Blashill.

“He’s real smart, excellent passer, he was a No. 1 defenseman in this league for a good amount of time,” Blashill said. “He was probably overshadowed for most of his career, in my opinion, and he didn’t get the credit he deserved at all.

“He’s still a real good player when he’s out there, because of the fact he’s smart and moves the puck well and makes everyone around him a better player.”

Babcock vs. Blashill?

Mike Babcock coached the Red Wings for 10 seasons before leaving for Toronto four years ago. He was replaced by Blashill, one of his former assistants.

The fact Babcock is on the opposing bench in Detroit isn’t nearly the news it was a few years ago, but it remains an interesting topic.

But, not so much for Blashill.

“At the end of the day it’s Red Wings against Maple Leafs, it’s not me against him,” Blashill said. “I’ve coached against other former colleagues or real good friends or mentors, and it’s all just us trying to coach and win hockey games.”

Painful change 

Goaltenders around the NHL are beginning to comment about the implementation of fitted chest protectors.

The pads are smaller and thinner, and on some occasions, pucks are leaving bruises on goaltenders.

It is thought the smaller equipment is contributing to higher scoring in the NHL. Going into Thursday's games, 10 teams were averaging four or more goals per game. Last season the league leader, Tampa Bay, averaged 3.54 goals.

Goalie Jonathan Bernier said he and Jimmy Howard have had a few bruises this season.

“I’ve had a few bruises, but nothing we can really do about it," Bernier said. "That’s the new rule. Goalies are too good now.”

It only took Bernier about two days to get used to the new equipment, which he feels is thinner and lighter.

“The whole thing is smaller, definitely,” Bernier said. “Shoulder and arms, not sure about the belly, but it looks like that.”

When asked about the black seat coverings now at Little Caesars Arena, Bernier mentioned other arenas, such as in Las Vegas and Brooklyn, that have the coverings and said goaltenders do have to focus just a bit harder in those settings.

“It may sound weird but dump-ins from the other end, sometimes it’s hard to pick the puck up and it will be an adjustment, for sure,” said Bernier, who added it’s important to focus on the puck when it’s in the opposing end.

Bernier said the covers aren’t a factor on shots.

Twitter @tkulfan