Wings' defense getting healthy, with likely return of Jonathan Ericsson

Ted Kulfan
The Detroit News
Jonathan Ericsson might return to the Red Wings' lineup Saturday.

Sunrise, Fla. — Trevor Daley returned to the lineup Thursday, and now it appears Jonathan Ericsson will be back Saturday for the Red Wings.

Suddenly, that battered Red Wings’ defense looks a lot more healthy — and not so young and inexperienced.

Ericsson (upper body) has been out since the exhibition season, but has been practicing hard this week and appears ready to play.

“Hopefully I’m in, but it’s not my decision,” Ericsson said Friday, ahead of Saturday's game against the Panthers. “Felt good today.”

Getting Ericsson and his 6-foot-5 frame into the lineup would be a huge lift for a Wings’ team looking for its first victory (0-5-2).

More: Red Wings focus on short term as losing streak builds

More: Chris Osgood: 'Inevitable' that Steve Yzerman returns to Red Wings

One reason for the Wings’ inability to win has been ailments to Ericsson, Daley, Danny DeKeyser (finger) and Mike Green (virus), leaving the Wings playing four young defensemen at once — Dennis Cholowski, Filip Hronek, Joe Hicketts, Libor Sulak.

DeKeyser and Green seem a little ways away from returning, though both are skating.

Coach Jeff Blashill talked after Friday’s practice about how the veteran defensemen have been missed in these opening weeks of the season.

“Sometimes in people’s absence, you appreciate them more,” Blashill said. “You realize the real positives they do when they’re not there. Daley coming back (Thursday) was a big plus. Johnny (Ericsson) coming back, he’s a big man who knows how to play against real good players, and he’s a good penalty killer.

“He makes mistakes like everybody else. But he does a lot of good things that at times haven’t been appreciated enough.

“The size factor hasn’t been appreciated enough.”

Blashill noted how the Wings will see big, physical forward Aleksander Barkov on Saturday when facing the Panthers.

More: Zetterberg's calming influence sorely missed by Red Wings

“If he (Ericsson) can get back and ready to (play), it would be good to have him to be able to play at times against Barkov,” Blashill said.

Ericsson has been skating for days, but realizes conditioning will be different heading into NHL regular season games.

“It’s hard to practice conditioning for game situations,” Ericsson said. “Everything is not going to be 100 percent right away and I can’t expect that. It’s always different. I can skate however much, then you come out of the game and you’re exhausted after the first shift. It’s a totally different thing.”

If Ericsson returns, the Wings must make a roster move, likely sending either Hicketts or Hronek to Grand Rapids.

Shoot the puck

Blashill was frustrated again after Thursday’s game with the team’s unwillingness to shoot the puck.

There were several instances where a shot appeared to be the best course of action — but the Wings’ passed the puck, snuffing the scoring chance.

“You wish some guys had a more natural mentality to shoot but it’s just something we’re going to have to keep showing,” Blashill said. “Sometimes when you show things, it’s in their face a little bit and they understand it a little more clearly.”

Ice chips

Blashill reconfigured the power-play units, adding Justin Abdelkader onto a unit with Tyler Bertuzzi, Dylan Larkin, Niklas Kronwall and Gustav Nyquist.

“Abby has been a good power play guy,” Blashill said. “The little bit he was on (Thursday), he went on it and did a good job with poise. He’s a good net-front guy.”

Andreas Athanasiou, Thomas Vanek, Frans Nielsen, Cholowski and Michael Rasmussen are on the other unit. Anthony Mantha was bumped off the power play.

More: Cholowski, young Wings see some promise in late rally

… Rasmussen will appear in his seventh NHL game Saturday. The Wings have the option to play Rasmussen in nine games and return him to his junior team (Tri-City in the WHL), if they so desire, without using a year of his entry-level contract. There’s a good chance the Wings will extend that timeframe by scratching Rasmussen a few games, but eventually, a decision will have to be made.

“It’s coming up and we’re aware of it,” said Blashill, who has discussed the matter with general manager Ken Holland. “I’m hoping he plays even better (Saturday) and keeps taking steps in the right direction. I like him a lot as a player and I hope he can keep going in the right direction.”

Red Wings at Panthers

Faceoff: 7 Saturday, at BB&T Center, Sunrise, Fla.

TV/radio: FSD/97.1

Outlook:  Entering Friday’s schedule Florida (0-2-2) was the only other team besides the Red Wings, winless in the NHL…The Panthers have been hurt by the loss of G Roberto Luongo (lower body)…C Aleksander Barkov is a potential MVP candidate.

Twitter: @tkulfan