Detroit – It was a turn-back-the-clock moment for Niklas Kronwall.
The Red Wings’ veteran defenseman has long been known for some devastating open-ice hits.
But now 37 – Kronwall will 38 on January 12 – those explosive hits have been fewer and farther between.
Until Saturday, when Kronwall leveled New York Islanders forward Anders Lee with a clean hit to Lee’s upper body, as Lee was transporting the puck near the Wings’ blue line – but with his head down.
That term “Kronwalled” came out of the mothballs.
“The hard part when you’re coming north-south is to not touch the head at all,” said Kronwall, of his mindset in such situations. “When you’re skating, you’re in a position where your head is basically the point of your body that is the most forward.
“You try to go through the chest or shoulder. Sometimes you end up catching the head.”
The hit on Lee, along with a first-period goal, were highlights in one of Kronwall’s best games this season. The Wings, however, squandered a two-goal lead and lost, 3-2.
There have been more than just a few highlights this season for Kronwall, who has been one of the Wings’ most consistent defensemen since October.
Since missing the first three games of the season – Kronwall has been hindered by a damaged knee for several years – he’s played every game and often, with fine defense.
“The first half of my first year, he was real good until he got hurt,” coach Jeff Blashill said. “This is probably as good, certainly from that point. He’s been excellent most of the year. This is certainly as physical as he’s been, more back to when I was an assistant here (2011), and he would have those Kronwall hits.
“We’ve talked about having a physical impact on game and he’s taken that to heart. He’s done a great job. We’ll continue to do that and he’ll be a big piece of that.”
Lee didn’t return until a late in the second period, needing stitches on his forehead and nose.
But Lee told reporters after the game Kronwall’s hit was clean; he admitted he was skating with his head down and looking for the puck.
Kronwall wasn’t penalized on the play, but officials huddled for a lengthy discussion on the hit.
Blashill wasn’t pleased.
“It was just too much talk, I don’t understand it,” Blashill said. “It was a clean hit, let’s move on. But that’s not for me to decide, and ultimately it didn’t have an effect on the game.”
Larkin steps in
After Kronwall’s hit on Lee, Kronwall became a marked man by the Islanders.
Islanders forward Josh Bailey leveled Kronwall late in the first period, close to being a slew-foot.
Dylan Larkin took exception to Bailey’s hit, and the two had a spirited fight, exciting the Little Caesars Arena crowd.
Blashill understood, and was fine with Larkin’s leadership – but was a bit wary. The Wings recently lost Anthony Mantha to a hand injury because of similar circumstances. Mantha reacted to a dangerous hit on Larkin and injured his hand in the ensuing fight.
“We certainly have said this before, and we suffered the consequences with Mantha being out,” Blashill said. “But if you have a team that doesn’t want to stick up for each other you have a bad team.
“We have a team that cares about each other and wants to stick up for each other. Certainly they care tons about Kronwall and saw kind of cheap shot on him. Dylan stood up.
“Do I want Dylan Larkin fighting all the time? No. But he’s got to make those decisions on the ice. I want us to be a group that stands up for each other for sure.”
Larkin needs to be on the ice, said Kronwall, but the emotion Larkin shows in such situations is needed, too.
“You love seeing stuff like that,” Kronwall said. “Guys sticking up for each other. Again, Larks is our best player and we need him on the ice as much as possible.
“But it’s awesome to see him show his emotions out there, too.”
With two fighting majors Saturday, the Wings now lead the NHL with 10.
... Kronwall’s goal Saturday was the 81st of his career and passed Marcel Pronovost for fourth all-time among Wings’ defensemen.
… Larkin’s two assists in the game pushed him past the 100 milestone (Larkin has 101). Larkin has 21 points (seven goals, 14 assists) in his last 20 games.
Kings at Red Wings
Faceoff: 7:30 p.m. Monday, Little Caesars Arena
TV/radio: FSD Plus/97.1 FM
Outlook: Los Angeles (11-18-1, 23 points) has been one of the NHL’s disappointments thus far, although key injuries have been a factor. ... The Kings defeated the Wings 4-2 on Oct. 7. … C Anze Kopitar (seven goals, 18 points) and D Drew Doughty (15 assists) have led the attack.