DETROIT - Tonight will be a milestone night for Red Wings defenseman Nick Jensen.
If Jensen plays at home against the Pittsburgh Penguins, as expected, it will mark his 10th NHL game, meaning he will need to be placed on waivers to be sent down to the AHL after tonight.
"I've known about it," Jensen said after Saturday's morning skate. "I don't really think about it much. I'm going game by game and just trying to earn my spot here. Whatever happens happens. I'm just trying to control what I can control."
Wings coach Jeff Blashill has had faith in Jensen dating back to their time together with the Grand Rapids Griffins.
"I've known him a long time," Blashill said. "He's a real even-keeled person. I don't think he gets too high, too low. I don't think he gets too nervous. He just plays. He attacks it a bit. The one thing I've liked about him is he attacks the game. He makes a mistake, he puts it behind him and he continues to attack the game. He's got lots of experience. He was a real good player in the USHL, he was a real good player in the WCHA, and then he's had a number of years in the American League. He's definitely prepared for the opportunity and he's done a good job so far."
Jensen said he's growing more comfortable with each game but knows that at this level, there's very little margin for error.
"I think one of the biggest things is that every play on the ice has to be 100 percent," Jensen said. "You can't kind of lean back saying, 'I don't think he'll get the puck. He might but maybe not.' Some stuff you can get away with in the AHL but here, if I'm tying up a guy's stick and I don't give it 100 percent effort, he's going to find a way to get his stick on the ground and het his stick on the puck. Then it can result in the back of the net, I think. Last game I even saw that, I let the guy go for a second and he got his stick on the puck, tipped it in the back of the net. So that's a thing I'm still learning but that's one of the big differences I've noticed in this league."
Blashill said another challenge for young players is learning how to be consistent every game.
"On the nights he doesn't feel great, how can he manage their game to make sure he's still effective," Blashill said. "That's the challenge. When he plays his best hockey, I think he does a great job breaking the puck out because he can really skate, I think he competes extremely hard and he's real good defensively. I think he's done than more than not with us and he needs to continue to to help us win hockey games."
The Wings' defense will be challenged by the offensive firepower of the Penguins, first in the league at 3.41 goals per game.
"They got some really skilled guys," Jensen said. "Not just me, all the D are going to have to focus in on playing really solid defense, not giving up any easy chances. Because any easy chances for these guys are going to be in the back of our net so I think that's a big focus for us."
COREAU IN NET: Jared Coreau gets his first start since last Saturday in San Jose.
It will be Coreau's seventh career start and his first at home in the regular season.
"I'm looking forward to it," Coreau said. "It's always nice to play at home. It's an iconic building, Joe Louis. I thought a little bit about it on the plane and haven't had a chance to play at home, so it'll be pretty cool."
Blashill said deciding which goaltender to play is the same process of evaluation that goes for all the players. That led to Coreau starting tonight against the Penguins.
"When he's playing his best he uses his size very well," Blashill said. "He doesn't over-move, nothing goes through him, he controls his rebounds well. You got to make big saves at big moments. That's the difference in the league lots of times, making big saves at big moments. We've got lots of confidence in him. We've got to make sure we do a good job of limiting those big-time chances against."
Coreau's first NHL start came in Pittsburgh on Dec. 3, a 5-3 Penguins win in which Coreau made 32 saves on 36 shots.
"They're obviously a really good team," Coreau said. "They have some star power. I thought we played a really good game and they came out in the third and ended up taking the game over. It showed us. We skated with them for two periods. We just need to do our job of outworking them on the walls and win our battles and I need to do a good job of making the saves I need to make. Probably going to have to make a couple of big saves, just as their guy will. They're a good team and they got some good veterans and it's going to be a good matchup."
KRONWALL UPDATE: Niklas Kronwall, out since leaving the Jan. 4 game at Anaheim with a lower-body injury, continues to skate with the team.
"No estimated time really, Kronwall said. "Just moving in the right direction. Feels better and better day by day now. Now it's just about getting more and more into practices and then go from there."
Kronwall said he's encouraged by how he's felt the last few times skating.
Now Kronwall would like to see the Wings get on a roll, especially now that they have finally returned home.
"I think the line between winning and losing has been very, very thin," Kronwall said. "And we, some nights, are almost finding ways to lose instead of the other way around. Again, I think we've been doing some good things on a lot of nights but at the end of the day, it's about getting two points and finding a way to win and we haven't been able to do that. We just got to stick with it and keep believing in it, stick together and just get it done by committee."
Kronwall said the team has to start putting together complete, 60-minute efforts.
Although it hasn't happened consistently this season, Kronwall said they can't think that it won't happen.
"We can't think like that," Kronwall said. "We have to stay positive. If we keep focusing on the negative, we're not going anywhere. What's in the past is in the past, look forward now, keep believing and stick together and do it as a group. Nobody else is going to do it for us. It's the guys in here that are going to get it done."
HELM UPDATE: Darren Helm, who has missed the last 25 games with a dislocated shoulder, said he plans to meet with the doctor today and hopes to have an update on his status soon.