DETROIT -- It's only fitting that Niklas Kronwall should return to the lineup on a night when Nicklas Lidstrom is honored at Joe Louis Arena for his Hall of Fame induction.
Kronwall, who played with Lidstrom for many years, has missed the last 15 games since undergoing arthroscopic knee surgery on Jan. 19.
Although Kronwall has been skating with the team for a while now, it will be a challenge to play in a game after missing so much time.
"Conditioning, timing," Kronwall said. "Those are the two things that it doesn't matter how much you skate on your own, once the game gets going, it's all game-type situations and it's hard to simulate that in practice."
Wings coach Jeff Blashill said they have to guard against expecting too much out of Kronwall in his first game back.
"We can’t throw too many minutes at him," Blashill said. "I think other guys have done a good job on the penalty kill that we feel confident in that area. He’ll certainly be on the one power-play unit. I think the biggest thing is to keep your expectations in check. I thought Nick was playing really, really well when he had the surgery, playing at a really high level, but we can’t expect him to hop on the ice today and expect him to be as good as he was when left off just because of the time off. It’s the reality of it."
Kronwall's teammates are thrilled to see him return.
"Kronner's our leader back there on defense," Justin Abdelkader said. "He brings a stability back there, obviously one of our leaders. It's great to have him back. I know he's been itching the last week. He's a guy that we count on to bring leadership and that veteran presence on that blue line."
Kronwall is a player that plays in every situation.
"It’s going to be huge for us," Danny DeKeyser said. "He’s our leader back there. Hopefully he’s going help out power play score some more goals from back there, move the puck and provide solid defense for us."
Kyle Quincey missed 35 games after ankle surgery so he can relate to what Kronwall will experience.
"Tonight's all excitement and adrenaline for the first little bit, and then every shift he's just going to get better and better," Quincey said. "It might take a game or two, or three or four, but even him at 50-60 percent, whatever, we're glad to have him. It is tough coming back from an extended period but every shift you just get more and more comfortable out there."
During Tuesday's morning skate, Blashill had Kronwall paired with Alexey Marchenko.
"Very steady, solid defensively, makes really good first passes, strong on his stick," Kronwall said. "Good player. I played with him a little bit in the past and it worked out pretty good. Hopefully that will continue tonight."
To make room for Kronwall on the roster, the Wings sent defenseman Jakub Kindl to the Grand Rapids Griffins.
In addition, the Wings also placed Kindl on waivers for the second time this season.
LINES CHANGING AGAIN: The Wings are still having trouble scoring on a consistent basis so lines are changing once again.
Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg will stay together but Gustav Nyquist will join them.
After scoring a career-best 54 points last season with 27 goals and 27 assists in 82 games, Nyquist has just 14 goals and 18 assists in 60 games.
"They've got a special ability that not many players have," Nyquist said. "I've played with Z for a long time, been on his line and some of the passes, sometimes you're not ready because you don't think a pass can go through that many skates but it does. They seem to find those passes, so you've just got to be ready and expect that really, whenever you have a chance to shoot, they'll find you."
Rookie Dylan Larkin is centering a line with Tomas Tatar and Justin Abdelkader.
Although Tatar is second on the team in goals with 16 to Larkin's 19, he is another player who set a career best last year with 29 goals and 27 assists and could produce more.
"Nyquist, Tats, those are guys that is certainly proven more offense in them and so we want to see there are other combinations so we can keep Pavel and Z playing at the level they’re playing and get a little more from other people," Blashill said.
Nyquist admits he does feel the pressure to score more.
"Hopefully I can get one and then you're not thinking about it as much," Nyquist said. "For sure you do start thinking about it. Obviously you hear about it when you haven't scored in a long time. It's impossible to not hear it. But like I said you just keep working hard, creating chances and hopefully when you get one you can build on that and get a couple more."
Luke Glendening is centering Darren Helm and Teemu Pulkkinen while rookie Andreas Athanasiou is centering Riley Sheahan and Brad Richards.
"There’s lots that go into line combinations," Blashill said. "I’d like to see us get it right all the time, but you certainly don’t. You watch and see. Also when you make changes it can kind of invigorate guys, coming home from Florida our guys were invigorated so hopefully this will invigorate our guys as well."
ERICSSON CLOSE: Jonathan Ericsson hasn't missed as much time as Kronwall has but he is also looking forward to returning.
"I skated yesterday by myself a little bit or with Kronner," Ericsson said. "Today was my first full practice with the team. Yesterday felt good, I felt pretty good today as well so now it's just a matter of getting back in shape and then hopefully I'll be ready for Saturday."
Ericsson has been out the last five games with a lower-body injury and skated with the team Tuesday morning.
"Johnny looks good," Blashill said. "I haven’t seen him lots but he feels good, so I think he’s real close."
Ericsson missed the Winter Classic at Michigan Stadium because of an injury and hopes to return in time for Saturday's Stadium Series game.
"I wouldn't want to miss this one either but it's not my call," Ericsson said. "I got to feel good too before. Hopefully I'll get a few good skates here before that."
NICK AT NIGHT: The Wings have already lifted Lidstrom's No. 5 to the rafters, but now it's time to celebrate his recent induction into the Hockey Hall of Fame.
Lidstrom, who will play for the Wings in the Alumni Game at Denver's Coors Field this Friday, will drop the ceremonial first puck for Zetterberg and Columbus captain Nick Foligno before the game.
Fans will receive a Lidstrom collectible print, watch videos commemorating Lidstrom's career and his Hall of Fame induction and have the opportunity to sign a "Congratulations, Nick" card on the concourse.
Ericsson cherishes the several seasons he got to play with Lidstrom.
"He meant a lot for me," Ericsson said. "I had a chance to sit with him and watch him up close from everything he was doing, both on and off the ice. He's not a man with a lot of words. He doesn't speak out and he's loud around the locker room, just whatever he says, you're listening to it and it's more of follow him and see what he's doing on and off the ice. He's kind of leading by example all the time, and I think that's actually the best way of leading. He meant everything for everyone in here, not just for the D-men, for the forwards as well, on how you're going to be as a leader. Everything that he had accomplished, still he was that guy that was around the locker room. He meant a lot."
Blashill feels the same way about the year he spent as an assistant to Mike Babcock while Lidstrom was still playing.
"I didn’t see Bobby Orr play but for me the best defenseman I’ve ever seen," Blashill said. "I say that because some defensemen, and there’s D-men in the league right now that are real flashy and might be real good offensively but I think the best winners for defensemen are efficient defensemen, guys that produce tons of offense without giving much up and he was the best I’ve ever seen at that.
"He was as efficient of a player as has probably ever been in the league. He created tons of offense through his ability to walk the blue line and find opening and shoot the slap shot and be shot ready but he was extremely good defensively and in breaking the puck out and transitioning. I believe he’s got to be right up there with anybody. It probably took a while for people to realize how good he was in the league. He ended up getting the recognition he deserved but he probably could have won more Norrises had he been recognized earlier."