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Notes: Ericsson out 12 weeks; Kronwall could return

Frans Nielsen could also return to the lineup this weekend

by Dana Wakiji @Dwakiji / DetroitRedWings.com

COLUMBUS - The Red Wings just seem destined to not be a fully healthy team this season.

Wings general manager Ken Holland told Mlive.com that Jonathan Ericsson, who suffered a fractured wrist on a hit by Washington's Nicklas Backstrom Thursday night, will undergo surgery next week and miss 12 weeks.

"It's a big loss," defenseman Niklas Kronwall said. "He means a lot to this team, a lot more I think than people give him credit for. Huge on the PK. He's a matchup guy that goes up against the best every night. That's something he's been doing really well for us all year. Breaking the pucks out, just being really, really strong in our own zone. So it's going to be a hole. But again, it's how it goes anytime someone goes down. It's an opportunity for someone else to step up and grab some more minutes and take upon themselves a bigger role."

Kronwall, who has missed the last three games with a lower-body injury, could be ready to step back into the lineup.

"We'll know that tomorrow," Wings coach Jeff Blashill said. "He was going to test it today. I think there's a good chance he can play tomorrow."

Kronwall was one of the players who participated in the team's optional practice at the OhioHealth Ice Haus Friday afternoon.

"I've been feeling pretty good," Kronwall said. "Barring a setback, I'm hoping to be available this weekend."

Also a possibility to return is Frans Nielsen, who has missed the last three games with a shoulder injury.

"I think there's a good chance he can play, but we won't know until he gets off here and see how he does," Blashill said.

Nielsen also skated in the optional practice.

The Wings entered Thursday's game with 222 man-games lost, second only to the Edmonton Oilers' 268.

"For me, I don't even think about it," Blashill said. "I think about the 20 guys that'll dress and I know we'll have 20 guys dressed that are good enough to win the hockey game. That type of stuff is out of our control. All we can do is take the 20 guys we have, which I know are good enough. We had 20 guys dressed (Thursday) night that were good enough to win the hockey game and we didn't win. We have to take our group tomorrow that'll be 20 guys that are good enough to win the hockey game and now we have to win the hockey game."

OPPORTUNITY FOR YOUNG D: Ericsson, 32, was averaging 19:13 ice time per game, time that might end up going to one of the young defensemen such as Nick Jensen, Xavier Ouellet or Ryan Sproul.

"Listen, they deserve it," Kronwall said. "They've been playing really well for us. They've earned the right to get a few more minutes and this will be a good opportunity for them."

Jensen made his debut Dec. 20 when Brendan Smith, Mike Green and Alexey Marchenko were all out with injuries.

"I remember from game 1 - it doesn't seem that long ago - and how I feel now on the ice I think I've gained a lot of confidence," Jensen said. "It comes gradually. You gradually build up from that. It comes from making little plays one after another and eventually you try to keep building, keep growing. The hardest thing in this league is to stay consistent on a regular basis. That's what guys like Ericsson and (Danny) DeKeyser and Green and Kronwall do. That's why they've played so long."

Since then, Jensen has played in all but one game, scoring two goals and four assists in 21 games.

Ouellet had played in 32 straight games before sitting in favor of Sproul Thursday night in Washington.

"Sometimes it's good to take a step back and watch and realize how much more time you have than you actually think out there," Ouellet said. "You need to try to find positives in everything so I went up there to try to look, try to learn."

Ouellet has two goals, six assists and is plus-five in 38 games this season.

"I thought his game had dipped a little bit and I want his game to get back to that high level where it was a month ago," Blashill said. "It hasn't been a big dip, just a little dip."

The Capitals game was Sproul's first since Jan. 10.

"It was OK," Sproul said. "It was obviously a tough team to play against. The timing was off a little bit in the first but about halfway through the first I got back into it and felt pretty good."

Sproul finished with two hits and a blocked shot in 16:52 but knows he can bring more to the table, like his hard, right-handed shot.

"This is a very tough league to get your shot off, obviously," Sproul said. "Last night I think I didn't have any shots, which is not what I want but if I can at least get the puck to the net and create some offense, that's what I want to do."

Jensen had extensive experience in the AHL with the Grand Rapids Griffins, which gave him lots of ice time in every situation, something that can help him now.

"Obviously it's not the NHL but the level of play is extremely high and in my situation down there I'm getting a lot of playing time, 20 some minutes every game," Jensen said. "That kind of experience is huge when you come up here. At the beginning, playing the minutes I was, I had a lot more energy the first couple of games. I was only playing maybe 10 to 15 minutes so I had a lot more energy and effort to expend against the guys which made it a lot easier on me."

In the last two games, Jensen has cracked the 20-minute mark.

Ouellet said he doesn't plan to take anything for granted.

"I got to be at my best every night, that's what's going to keep me in the lineup," Ouellet said. "I feel like I had a sequence where I was doing really, really good, I was at a really high level and then maybe slowed down a little bit. I guess that's what it is, I just need to find a way to get back up to that good hockey level."

HOWARD UPDATE: The Wings recalled goaltender Jimmy Howard from the Griffins and placed Ericsson on long-term injured reserve Friday afternoon.

Howard started two games for the Griffins on his rehabilitation stint, but left the second midway through the third period.

"It was just about 10 minutes left in the third and the Manitoba guy got the puck hashmarks down and it was just him and I and made a move and I extended out with my right leg and when I pulled it back in, I felt something," Howard said. "But I was able to get up and finish the play. I actually made another save in the process. Figured better to be safe than sorry."

Howard underwent an MRI Thursday evening in Detroit.

"It was a tweak of the same knee, pretty much in the same area," Howard said. "Just here now doing rehab and strengthen it back up again so hopefully can go and play again next week."

Howard flew to Columbus to join the Wings Friday morning.

"He came here so he could do some rehab," Blashill said. "He'll do the rehab and we'll reassess once he comes back. I don't think it was a big setback. I think it was just a tweak and now he's got to rest it a little bit. Hopefully Monday he can get back on the path to coming back."

That rehabilitation work will not involve going on the ice this weekend as Howard's goalie equipment and skates are in Iowa with the Griffins.

"Obviously don't have any equipment or skates so can't really go out there," Howard said. "But at the same time, I think they wanted to give it a day or two to just let it heal a little bit."

Howard said he was feeling better in his second game with the Griffins than he did in the first one. "I felt a lot more calmness about my game out there the second night," Howard said. "The first night it was just, my head was spinning out there. First time with 10 guys out on the ice and tracking the puck, it was difficult. But like I said, really discouraging that this little setback happened because I really felt really good."

Howard originally injured his knee Dec. 20 in Tampa.

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