The Detroit Red Wings’ version of a “Big Three,” consisting of Henrik Zetterberg, Pavel Datsyuk and Jimmy Howard, came through in enough crucial spots to propel the team to a first round upset of the Anaheim Ducks. To have any chance of doing the same to the NHL’s top regular season team, the Chicago Blackhawks, the Wings really need that trio to become a foursome.
Specifically, it would be helpful if defenseman Niklas Kronwall upped his level of play in the second round of the playoffs. Detroit’s blue line leader was solid in Round 1, but he definitely didn’t play like someone who some writers thought might be a Norris Trophy candidate earlier in the season (and by “some writers,” I mean me).
Everyone enjoyed the big hit on Kyle Palmieri during Game 4 that led to “You got Kronwalled!” chants ringing out through Joe Louis Arena. Open ice collisions have always been a key part of Kronwall’s game, and even though he doesn’t seem to look for them as often as in previous years, their threat helps keep opposing players skating with their heads on swivels.
Kronwall didn’t shy away from putting his body on the line against the Ducks, averaging more than two hits and two blocked shots per game. And he did it while maintaining his discipline, staying out of the penalty box for the entire series despite logging the most ice time of any defenseman.
No problems there. You can even forgive his -2 overall against Anaheim since it was at least partially caused by his fellow blueliners committing some cringe-worthy turnovers, often in their own end.
It’s on offense where Kronwall has to contribute more. One assist in seven games simply isn’t cutting it for a guy who at times during 2013 flirted with being the top scoring d-man in the entire NHL. Kronwall has a booming shot and needs to let it go more often against the Blackhawks – particularly on the power play, where the Wings’ lack of options continually (and dangerously) has them using forwards Damien Brunner and Mikael Samuelsson to man one of the points.
Maybe it’s unfair to ask Kronwall to do everything he’s been doing and chip in more scoring, but the fact is that the Red Wings need him to do it. Chicago has multiple blueliners who can join the rush and aid their forwards. Detroit has… well, just Kronwall right now. Danny DeKeyser was moving the puck well, but he’s out for the playoffs and wasn’t exactly piling up points even before he went down to injury. Ian White is so far in the doghouse (for a reason, but still) that he probably doesn’t even remember where the door is located.
That makes it Kronwall or bust when it comes to offense from the defense. So to sum up, the team needs him to play tons of minutes against Chicago’s top forwards, play physically without taking penalties, jump up in the play more while staying smart about it, and find a way to either score or set up more goals.
It’s a lot to ask, possibly too much. Considering what they’re up against, the Red Wings are going to have to hope he can answer it all anyway.