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X-Factor: Red Wings need Kronwall of old

Veteran defenseman has to be at his physical best for Detroit to advance in postseason

by Paul Harris / Correspondent

DETROIT -- In his prime, Niklas Kronwall was one of the most feared body checkers in the NHL and a defenseman who provided consistent offense.

That's exactly the kind of player the Detroit Red Wings need if they want to make their 25th consecutive trip to the Stanley Cup Playoffs a memorable one.

But Kronwall, 35, has been slowed by arthroscopic surgery on his left knee that forced him to miss 15 games in January and February, and a sprained left knee in March that cost him three games.

Though Kronwall continued to play more than 20 minutes per game after he returned each time, he clearly was not 100 percent. He lost his balance, turned the puck over and looked unsure of himself more than he had in his 12-season NHL career.

"It's getting towards where I want it to be," Kronwall told the Detroit Free Press on March 23. "I still think I've got some work to do. It's been a rough start, then slowly starting to get to where I want to be."

Kronwall's 26 points (three goals, 23 assists) in 64 games were his fewest in a season where he's played at least 60 games since 2006-07, when he had 22 points in 68 games. And his minus-21 rating was the worse of his NHL career.

Despite his struggles, Kronwall remains the best top-pair option for the Red Wings. But they need him to be closer to the player he was in seasons past. 

Video: DET@DAL: Kronwall knocks down Nichushkin

"He's been one of the better two-way defensemen in the League for a long time," Detroit coach Jeff Blashill said. "He's very, very good defensively. Lots of times he's playing against the other team's best players. He breaks the puck out very well and he can bring offense."

Kronwall, along with captain Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk, are the Red Wings' veteran leaders who set the tone.

When Kronwall was suspended for Game 7 of the Red Wings' Eastern Conference First Round loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning last season, it was a huge blow to Detroit, which lost 2-0 at Amalie Arena. The Red Wings will play the Lightning again in the first round this year. 

The Red Wings will gladly take the Kronwall who played in the series last season. 

"It's intense games now," Kronwall said. "You get involved more. You want to be doing it right. And if you do it right you believe other guys will follow."

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