Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Red Wings Need Nik Kronwall On The Ice, Not On A Milk Carton

Where's Niklas Kronwall these days? Where's he been keeping himself?

I hope he's well. Been a long time. Next time you happen upon him, tell him I said hi, and that we all miss him.

Oh, and tell him that the doppelganger that's been filling in for him this season can't hold a candle to the real deal.

If the Red Wings are to repeat as Stanley Cup champs -- and no team has done that since the '98 Wings -- or if they even hope to repeat getting out of the first round, then they're going to need better play from the rear guard, as the old-time hockey people say. Translated: the defensemen.

Much of the onus has, once again, been placed on the goalies. Correction, goalie -- singular. As in Chris Osgood, specifically. Fine. Ozzie has been less than stellar, though he's playing better as of late.

But what of the guys playing in front of him, and backup Ty Conklin? They get a free pass?

The Red Wings have given up goals this season at a startling, non-Red Wings-like rate. About three per game, and I can't even remember the last time that happened around here. Not for a full season, anyway.

I'm picking on Kronwall, though -- because I feel he's the biggest offender among the defenders.

The Red Wings got a tremendous boost in last year's playoffs because Kronwall was finally healthy during them. Not so in 2007, and the Wings couldn't make it past Anaheim in the Final Four.

In '08, Kronwall was a force, making Vladdie Konstantinov-like hits in the neutral zone and elsewhere, ensuring that opposing forwards kept one eye on where Kronwall was and the other on the puck. And hockey is a sport played much better when you can use both eyes to see what you're doing.

Kronwall, wreaking havoc in the '08 Finals

It was just a matter of time, it seemed, before "Kronnie" would flatten someone. His hits were brutal, legal, and definitive. In the playoffs, that brand of hockey fits like a glove.

The Red Wings had many stars and heroes in their '08 Cup run. But if they don't get the play from Niklas Kronwall as they received in the playoffs, I'm not so sure they claim the brass ring.

Nicklas Lidstrom and Brian Rafalski remain the team's top two defensemen, with Brad Stuart a solid no. 3.

Kronwall, for whatever reason, hasn't been the player this season as he was last year. He's a distant fourth, behind the three guys I mentioned.

Makes me wonder if Chris Chelios might get some love in the playoffs, if Kronwall doesn't step it up. Coach Mike Babcock has proven that he's not shy to sit someone down, no matter their reputation, if he feels it's warranted.

Just ask Dominik Hasek.

I must be fair, though, and admit that a Kronwall at 75% is still better than most defensemen in the league. But the Red Wings aren't most teams. They operate at a capacity higher than the others. And they need a 100% Kronwall, not a doppelganger.

I sure hope he shows up soon. The playoffs are a-comin'.

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