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Red Wings' Nick Jensen no longer a safety-first defenseman

Gregg Krupa
The Detroit News
Nick Jensen

Detroit – At age 28, Nick Jensen has not played 200 or 250 games that traditionally mark the end of an NHL defenseman’s apprenticeship.

But, with Jensen set to play in his 160th Monday night, he is establishing himself as one of the Red Wings’ more reliable defensive assets.

Jensen ranked third among the defensemen in time on ice heading into the Kings game, at 20:03 per game, behind Mike Green (22:20) and Danny DeKeyser (21:17).

He led the team in blocked shots with 48, 10 more than Niklas Kronwall and Luke Glendening.

His rating was minus-3.

More: Daley likely to return as Red Wings seek to play fast vs. Kings

Jensen is part of the Wings' penalty killing efforts that ranked second on the road at 90.2 percent (79.4 percent overall).

Trevor Daley would likely return to the lineup against the Kings Monday, Jeff Blashill said. But, with DeKeyser injured, Jensen is arguably one of the top two defensive defensemen on the team.

“It’s a game of ups and downs, obviously,” Jensen said. “You see that a lot.

“You saw that at the beginning of the year, with me. I was on a downer.”

After a tough training camp, Jeff Blashill sat Jensen the first game. But, Jensen has played in every one since.

He leads the Red Wings defensemen with 30 games played.

“I think the coaching staff does a good job with managing players,” he said. “Blashill had a talk with me, and he told me basically how I could be better.

“A lot of times, I was trying to play a little more on the safe side. Being in that position where you’re kind of on the bubble in the lineup, trying to make it, you’re trying to play mistake-free hockey.

“Sometimes, that can lead to throwing the puck away, being too safe with the puck,” Jensen said.

“He had a talk with me, and I think that’s one thing that really clicked. I think that really helped with my breakouts in the D-zone. I’m able to get the puck from my hands in the forward’s hands, instead of going off the glass punting around the neutral zone.”

Asked if he is still making some adjustments to the NHL, Jensen said, given the state of play in the league, he believes he will always be adjusting.

“It’s tough to say that I’m ever in sync with this league because its constantly growing,” Jensen said. “You constantly have to grow with it.

“I don’t ever feel like I’m comfortable out there, like, ‘Oh, yeah, I belong in this league.’

“I have a kind of mentality that I have to show up every night and continue to move in the upward direction that this league is growing,” he said.

Larkin is clutch

Dylan Larkin leads the Red Wings in points (28) and is tied with Andreas Athanasiou for the lead in goals with 11.

His performance is even more integral to the Wings’ recent winning ways because his scoring is timely. Larkin has three overtime goals.

That matches the franchise record for a season, after only 30 games.

Herbie Lewis (1933-34), Steve Yzerman (2000-01) and Brendan Shanahan (2003-04) all had three in a season.

Entering play Monday, Larkin was the only NHL player with three.

Larkin also has a shootout winner.

Since he entered the league in 2015-16, he has the most winning goals for the Wings, 16.

But, with the team leading the league in fights and Larkin contributing recently that way, too, he faced questions Monday about whether he will continue to fight.

He will.

“I don’t think we want to do it all the time,” he said. “But, I saw a play I didn’t like,” he said of a hit on Kronwall by the Islanders Saturday night.

“There’s a lot of respect around our room, for Kronner.”

Red Wings vs. Capitals

Faceoff: 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Capital One Arena, Washington, D.C.

TV/radio: NBCSN/97.1 FM

Outlook: T.J. Oshie could return to the powerful lineup of the Stanley Cup champions, after suffering a concussion Nov. 14 and missing 11 games. The Capitals were 9-2 without him. Tom Wilson (concussion) will remain out of the lineup. … The Red Wings lost 3-1 to the Capitals in Washington in their only previous meeting this season. Andreas Athanasiou scored, the Wings were 0-for-3 on the power play and Jonathan Bernier stopped 20 of 23 shots.