Making up ground a Wings' priority
Kronwall set to return Tuesday vs. Phoenix
Starting Tuesday against the Phoenix Coyotes, the Wings have an opportunity to make up some of the ground they have lost in the race to secure a playoff spot. Phoenix sits in fifth-place while the Wings are currently holding on to ninth-place, just percentage points shy of eighth seeded Calgary.
“These next few games coming up, teams are ahead of us, they’re fighting for playoff points and trying to get into the playoff spots,” Wings forward Kirk Maltby said. “Everyone’s within striking distance, and we got to start treating games like they’re a one-game playoff game.”
In their last four games, the Wings have entered the third period with a lead, only to let them slip away. All but one of those games resulted in a loss. The only win was a shootout victory over Minnesota last Thursday.
The disappointing losses paired with the Wings’ need for points has only motivated them to want to perform better and seal the deal during a three game stretch on four days, beginning Tuesday with Phoenix. The Wings also have games at Minnesota on Wednesday before returning home to face Nashville on Friday.
“You just got to try to find the positives in those games, and what got you those leads, and try to build off that and continue to get those wins,” forward Drew Miller said. “It’s been frustrating letting some of those leads go, but you can’t look back on it now. You just got to keep moving forward and have the mindset of just trying to go out and be the best team you can be.”
Maltby agreed, adding, “We still know what we’re capable of, and we don’t want to leave it down to the last five games of the year, where we’re still trying to get in. We want to try and get up as high as we possibly can and stay there.”
KRONWALL RETURNS: Defenseman Niklas Kronwall is set to return to the Wings’ lineup on Tuesday after a knee sprain sidelined him on Nov. 21 at Montreal.
The hard-hitting defenseman will provide a much-needed boost of energy on the blue line, where he will reunite with partner Brad Stuart. And Wings coach Mike Babcock is excited to have Kronwall back on the ice.
“He gives you a dynamic guy on the back end, whether that be physical, whether that be defending, whether that be in the rush offensively, whether that be on the power play, whether that be on the penalty kill,” Babcock said.
Kronwall’s teammates agree.
“It’s huge,” forward Dan Cleary said. “Words can’t describe how important he is to our team. Power play, moving the puck, everything. He does everything great and he’s a huge piece to our team.”
Kronwall is also elated to rejoin his struggling team.
“It’s tough to stand aside and not be able to do anything about it,” Kronwall said, “so obviously I’m very excited to get back out there, and hopefully win some games.”
While Kronwall feels ready to go both physically and mentally, he understands that he has to pace himself in getting back to game speed, so that he is prepared for the toll of the team’s ongoing battle for a playoff spot.
“Any time you get back you have to try to keep it simple, and try not to get caught out there for too long,” he said. “Because you know, obviously you want to have some fuel left in the tank and all that. Especially now that there’s a lot of games coming up.”
HISTORY OF DOMINANCE: The Wings have compiled an impressive win streak against the Coyotes. In their last eleven games against Phoenix, the Wings have accumulated a 9-1-1 record.
This season, the Wings are 2-0-1 against their Western Conference foes from Arizona.
Despite their proven track record against the Coyotes, veteran forward Kris Draper doesn’t believe the Wings will enter Tuesday’s match with added confidence.
“It’s just another game, we don’t really get caught up in what our record is against another team,” Draper said. “They’re playing well, this is a team that we’re battling right to the end for a playoff spot, so it doesn’t matter who we’re playing, we just realize how important this game is.”
LINE CHANGES: The Wings are just 1-5-2 when registering 40 or more shots on goal this season.
So in order to shake some things up and give Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg an offensive spark, Babcock has decided to flip-flop his top two offensive lines, replacing Todd Bertuzzi with Cleary.
Cleary will play with Zetterberg and Datsyuk, and Bertuzzi will be paired with Valtteri Filppula and Drew Miller.
“For us to be successful, your best players got to be your best players,” Babcock said. “And with our guys, that means they have to generate offense. So we’re doing everything we can to put Pav and Z in a position to be successful.
“That’s nothing against what Bert was doing, we’re just not scoring enough. So we moved that around, we’ll see what happens.”