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Mule gets 'nose dirty'

Franzen earns net-front stripes while filling in for Holmstrom, Cleary

Monday, 03.10.2008 / 4:03 PM / News
By Bill Roose  - Managing Editor | DetroitRedWings.com
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Mule gets \'nose dirty\'
In the absence of a couple of key offensive contributors, Franzen has don't a terrific job in his net-front role.
DETROIT – Getting his nose dirty isn’t something that Johan Franzen is overly experience at.

But with Tomas Holmstrom (groin) and Dan Cleary (fractured jaw) out of the Detroit lineup, the former center turned right wing has stepped in, earning his stripes as a net-front agitator.

“You have to want to be in there,” said Franzen of playing in front of the opposing net. “You want to get your nose dirty. … I had a different type of game style before.”

In the Wings’ 4-3 win over Nashville on Sunday, Franzen scored two more goals – both on power-plays – giving him four goals in the last three games. In each of the last three games – wins over Buffalo, St. Louis and the Predators – he has collected the game-winning goal, giving him six on the season.

“It’s more luck,” Franzen said. “You never know which goal is going to be the game-winner, but it’s always fun to have those.”

For Red Wings goal Dominik Hasek, luck doesn’t have much to do with Franzen’s recent success.

“He’s so big and wide,” Hasek said. “It’s very difficult to see through him, so when Homer is injured, I believe he can do the same job like Homer does. Around the net, especially in front of the goalie, he’s such a valuable player, because it’s hard to move him.”

Franzen, 28, relied more upon a skilled game when he was back home in Sweden. But once he arrived in the NHL for the start of the 1005-06 campaign, he knew it was time for an adjustment.

“I was more of a center mostly, and I didn’t go into the corners either,” he said. “I was flying around in the slot waiting for guys to dig it out for me and shoot the puck. I had a lot of the guys doing the dirty work for me.

“I changed my game when I came over here. That was my only way to get a spot on this team, so I had to change it. I used my skill back in Sweden when I played, but I knew that wasn’t enough for over here to compete with Hank (Zetterberg) or Pavel (Datsyuk). So I had to bring a new level to my game.”

That new level has led to Franzen amassing a career-high 16 goals this season while playing a versatile role that has given the Red Wings an additional offensive threat.
Going into the corners was once something that Franzen didn't do a lot of. But in his role as a power forward, digging in the corners is par for the course.

“We have three big guys who hang onto the puck in the offensive zone, that’s Homer, Cleary and Mule,” Red Wings coach Mike Babcock said. “They’re all big bodies and they’re heavy – they’re hard to move off the puck. We’re a much better team when we have them all.

“Obviously, (Franzen) has good hands, and can deflect pucks. Basically, he’s filling in where Homer and Cleary used to be, and (Sunday) he did a real good job with that. I think he’s getting his confidence and the more he can generate offensively, the better we are.

“All of this stuff on the outside might be nice for the fans, but you don’t score like that on the outside. You have to get it in the inside and that’s what the big bodies do.”

Part of Franzen’s learning curve as a net-front presence has been picking up on what Holmstrom does in his role in front of the opposition’s crease.

“Especially the work that he does in front of the net on the power play,” Franzen said. “He’s always so close to the goalies; right on top of the crease. He doesn’t give the goalie a chance to come out and cover the net. That’s where I look to him the most.”

There have been stretches this season when Franzen has returned to his old position, but for Hasek, who has to deal with the 6-foot-2 Swedish wide-body every day in practice, Franzen is more valuable in his current role.

“He can play center once in awhile, but for me he’s better on the wing because he’s a great skater,” Hasek said. “He can skate with or without the puck. He’s great both ways; I mean he can back-check, forecheck. I don’t see him as the playmaker, like a typical center, but he can do it also. I see him more like a wing, flying up the ice and giving other players chances to score the goals.

“He doesn’t have any weaknesses.”

INJURY UPDATE: Babcock said he didn’t know the status of defenseman Chris Chelios (leg) for Tuesday’s home game against the Chicago Blackhawks.

As for Holmstrom (groin), the Red Wings coach said, “When we get the report, we’ll know, but not right now.”

Holmstrom was injured during last Friday’s practice at Detroit’s City Arena. He didn’t skate in Saturday’s practice and he was sidelined for Sunday’s game against Nashville.

“I’m just hopeful that we’ll have everyone ready to go, and all hands on deck when it counts,” Babcock said. “It’s been a good opportunity … it was good to see all of the young guys, and we have to get our team ready.”

ERICSSON RETURNED: On Monday, rookie defenseman Jonathan Ericsson was assigned to Grand Rapids of the American Hockey League.

In seven games with the Red Wings, Ericsson had one goal. He made his NHL debut on Feb. 22 at Calgary and logged more than 22 minutes of ice time.

With the Griffins this season, the 6-foot-4 Swede has seven goals and 18 assists.


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