The Detroit Red Wings improved to 6-2-0 on the season and extended their win streak to four games with a Thursday night win over the Colorado Avalanche, but lost top defenseman Niklas Kronwall after a bad hit into the boards in the first period. Kronwall suffered a concussion and now has to go through the league-mandated observation steps before he can return, which puts some added pressure on the team’s remaining six defensemen as the Wings face the Phoenix Coyotes on Saturday night.
Jimmy Howard is expected to return in net after missing three games with a hand injury, and for the first time in a long time he will have six blueliners who are 29 or younger in front of him. At 32 years old, Kronwall is the veteran leader of the Detroit defense and also one of the team’s top offensive threats. His six points puts him behind only Henrik Zetterberg, Pavel Datsyuk and Daniel Alfredsson in scoring, while the other defensemen on the team have combined for seven points. After sitting out the last four games, Brendan Smith draws back into the lineup with Kronwall out. He has continued to struggle this season (and along with Kyle Quincey is one of two d-men with a negative mark in plus/minus, and will have a great opportunity to make a case for more playing time. Danny DeKeyser, Jakub Kindl, and Brian Lashoff have been solid this season, but need to show they can handle more minutes when needed. Jonathan Ericsson is logging more than 22 minutes per game, and will be looked to for leadership with Kronwall out. The Coyotes got the best of the Wings the last time they met, and Howard will need to be sharp to avoid a loss. Losing Kronwall is a big blow, but it is a great opportunity for Detroit’s young talent to step up and showcase their strengths.