|Since returning from a fractured wrist, defenseman Jonathan Ericsson has impressed the Red Wings' coaches. (Photo by Dave Reginek) |
The best indicator of a confident hockey player is usually increased ice-time. It’s even more impressive for a player just back from a 4 ½ week stint on the injury list.
In just his third game back from a fractured left wrist, Jonathan Ericsson
has drawn high praise for stepping up his game, particularly on the penalty kill.
“He gets the puck out every time he has it,” Red Wings coach Mike Babcock said. “He's a huge man. He eats up space. I think he's made a night and day difference.”
Even before Sunday’s 2-1 shootout win over Florida, Ericsson had caught Babcock’s attention, forcing the coach to juggle his defensive units, when he sat Ian White
as a healthy scratch and paired Big E with captain Nicklas Lidstrom
for the game against the Panthers. And Ericsson was rewarded with 23:26 of ice-time, the highest single-game total that he’s logged this season.
Now, some of his increased time came after defenseman Kyle Quincey
was ejected for receiving a major elbowing penalty, but Babcock wouldn’t have counted on Ericsson if he didn’t feel confident on the 6-foot-4 Swede.
Even though Ericsson missed 13 games, his conditioning didn’t suffer as he managed to skate with the team in practices and morning skates. That alone gave him an advantage over players who have recently returned from lower body injuries, like Pavel Datsyuk
(knee); Jimmy Howard
(groin) and Lidstrom (ankle).
“Unlike the other guys that were injured he is quicker to get back because he skated the whole time,” Babcock said. “He could do stuff, whereas Pavel with his knee or Nick with his ankle or Howie with his groin, you haven't played hockey. So you got to get back. When you first get back you're tried after a little bit, you're worn down, you got to get that second wind and that energy in you so you can be what you're capable of being.”
Ericsson and Lidstrom will be paired again Wednesday when the Wings play the St. Louis Blues at the Scottrade Center, Babcock said. White will be paired with Jakub Kindl
, and Niklas Kronwall
will work with Brad Stuart
The Wings need to tighten up their defense, and getting Ericsson going will certainly be a big lift heading into the final three games of the regular-season and into the playoffs. And playing along side Lidstrom can’t hurt anyone’s confidence.
“This year I haven't played with him (much), of course it happens in the course of games we play with each other but not often,” Ericsson said. “More last year, and PK and earlier this year on PK as well.”
The biggest difference with playing along side Lidstrom will be going up against the opposition’s top forward lines, something Ericsson hasn’t faced consistently in his four NHL seasons.
“That's a challenge itself, too,” he said, “and it's always fun to be matched up against the top line. All of our D are trying to have the same mentality out there, don't throw away the puck too much. Nick does everything so well and creates time for you. I'm not nervous at all. It's just an honor to play with him and try to embrace that as a challenge of playing against other teams' top lines.”
A good sign for Ericsson was that he logged as much ice-time that he did Sunday and didn’t feel all that winded afterwards.
“The first game you get tired very quickly, second game as well,” he said. “This last game I felt good. I got a little tired at the end because we only had five defensemen in the third period. It's been a noticeable difference every game in how I feel in my legs and body.”
Whether or not he continues to be paired with a seven-time Norris Trophy winner into the playoffs, Ericsson wants to fine tune some things in the final three games this week.
“It would be tough to jump right into a playoff game, those games are so intense and important,” he said. “So it's really good for me to get back and play a few games and get my confidence back a little bit and feel a little more comfortable out there.”Follow Bill Roose on Twitter | @Bill_Roose