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Kronwall steady presence for post-Lidstrom Wings

by Brian Hedger

DETROIT -- If anybody knows just how much Nicklas Lidstrom did for the Detroit Red Wings, it is countryman and former teammate Niklas Kronwall.

Lidstrom, the Red Wings' legendary former captain, left a gaping hole for Detroit when he retired last spring. He quarterbacked the power play to near perfection, rarely made a mistake defensively and handled all responsibilities that come with wearing the "C" in a Red Wings uniform -- both on the ice and in the locker room.

To his credit, Kronwall has never pretended he could replace Lidstrom and his many qualities. The 32-year-old has, however, filled in nicely as Detroit's top blueliner.

"He's in a tough spot," Jonathan Ericsson, Kronwall's defense partner, told "He's absolutely our No. 1 defensemen and he's got some big shoes to fill ... but you know, it's Nick Lidstrom and you can't really do that. Nick's got what, seven Norris trophies? That pretty much says it all, but without [Kronwall], it would've been tough to be where we're at."

The Red Wings (14-10-5) are seventh in the Western Conference and third in the Central Division with 33 points heading into Detroit's Wednesday Night Rivalry game against the Minnesota Wild (16-10-2, 34 points) at Joe Louis Arena (7:30 p.m., NBCSN).

Detroit has been riddled with injuries, including a couple of defensemen, and it's been Kronwall's rock-steady presence that's helped hold it all together on the back end. Most thought Detroit's defense would suffer the most without Lidstrom, but thanks to an inspired effort spearheaded by Kronwall that hasn't been the case.

Kronwall does have a minus-7 rating, but it has steadily risen and his offensive contributions -- five goals and 17 assists -- put him at the top of the scoring race for defensemen. He's played in all 29 games and is at least in the debate for the Norris Trophy this season.

"I don't see how you can't consider him for it," said 24-year old defenseman Brendan Smith, who has occasionally partnered with Kronwall in recent seasons. "He's been playing really well at both ends of the ice. It's funny to see, actually. Nick Lidstrom was [always] up for the Norris and now you slide him out and put Kronwall in there. It's unbelievable."

Kronwall, however, said he's not attempting a Lidstrom impersonation.

"I don't think it's fair to anyone to try to do what he did -- because what he did on a daily basis is pretty incredible," said Kronwall, one of Detroit's alternate captains and vocal leaders. "I try to be the best me that I can be, and I know that I have some work to do. I'm working hard to get my game to the next level and that's a work in progress."

It hasn't been an easy adjustment going from second-pair stalwart to the top spot on the blue line. The added ice time has helped Kronwall's offensive numbers increase, but he's also out more often against the best players on opposing teams.

Detroit's injury plague has also affected him. The Red Wings can't afford to lose Kronwall for any length of time, so his patented big hits have taken a bit of a back seat. He's also spent some time, out of necessity, helping young defensemen Smith and Brian Lashoff expedite their development curves.

"He helps everyone around him," Smith told "I know when Lashoff came up, he played his first few games with Kronwall and said, 'He makes it so easy for you, because he's so talented that he moves the puck and you barely play in your own end.' It's easier to play offense than it is to play defense and [Kronwall's] just so good at that."

He's also an emotional sparkplug. Lidstrom led by instilling calm during pressure-packed situations, but Kronwall helps lead by getting in his teammates' faces from time to time.

"He's one of those guys we go to for that," Detroit forward Johan Franzen told "He's always got this fighting fire going all the time. He's intense. He really wants to win and he shows that [in here]."

Kronwall also shows his teammates how it's done by setting a good example.

"It's some big shoes to fill here being the top guy [on defense] and getting all that ice time," Franzen said. "But he's doing a great job with it. I don't think anyone works harder than that guy. He's always trying to get better every day and he never takes a day off."

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