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Notes: Kronwall doing what it takes to stay healthy

Veteran impressed with young defensemen Xavier Ouellet and Ryan Sproul; Stars in town

by Dana Wakiji @Dwakiji /

DETROIT - Niklas Kronwall will play in his 10th game of the season tonight when he faces the Dallas Stars.

Kronwall, 35, has been dealing with chronic knee problems caused by wear and tear and injuries sustained during the course of his career.

Those issues forced Kronwall to miss the first 11 games of the season and two other games since then.

"Physically, I feel pretty good," Kronwall said. "My game, there's definitely things I need to work on. There's no hiding that. A lot of areas that needs to get better. But in saying that, the knee's been holding up, so it feels pretty good that way."

In order to maintain his knee, the Wings have kept Kronwall out of practice the day after a game and out of the second of back-to-back games.

"He didn't like hearing from me that I wasn't going to play him the other night, because he wants to play but my job is to make sure I'm putting our guys in the best position possible," Wings coach Jeff Blashill said. "I just felt for long term, and for short term for that matter that was the right decision. But he's a warrior. He understands. He gets the big picture but in the moment he wants to play and be out there as much as possible. I think we'll continue to monitor the effect of not practicing much. He had a chance to practice yesterday and play today so I think that's a positive and we'll just have to continue to monitor it."

But right now the Wings are down two defensemen, Alexey Marchenko (upper body) and Brendan Smith (right knee sprain) and the team has back-to-back games this weekend in Pittsburgh and Brooklyn, New York.

Kronwall said it's still too early to determine if he could play both games but the Wings also have to consider the big picture.

"I still don't want to rule it out," Kronwall said. "But I think everything is going to be, again, kind of based on how things move along here. Obviously I'd like to play every game. It is what it is now. I think the biggest thing will be not to jeopardize anything. If you were to play in the back-to-back, potentially you could end up losing some time on the back end. So obviously you'd rather sit one out than several games out."

From a competitive standpoint, it's tough for Kronwall to sit out, but he knows it can benefit him.

"It helps my body," Kronwall said. "As far as the game goes, for myself, I always believe the more you work on your game the better or the easier it will be to take it to the next step. But in saying that, you got to find different ways to get better than you have in the past. That's something I'm working on daily."

PAIRING WITH X: Kronwall has been encouraged by the play of young defensemen Xavier Ouellet and Ryan Sproul.

"I think they've done great," Kronwall said. "X, he's been with us before. He's just solid, it doesn't matter how many minutes or what spots you put him in, he always plays well for us. Sproully's come in and done great, huge on the power play. He's got something that we don't have, that big bomb that we haven't had for a long time. So he adds definitely something on that end, some great offensive instincts. He likes to join the rush, push the play. So I think both of them have done really well for us."

Kronwall is paired with Ouellet tonight and Blashill thinks Ouellet can learn a lot from the veteran.

"Nik's a great talker on the ice," Blashill said. "I think he's a real thinker. I think he can really help him when he comes back to the bench. It's a huge benefit for a young defenseman to be able to learn lessons from Nik Kronwall. Nik learned from some real good defensemen himself so it's a good part of the passing down process."

Although they haven't played together, Kronwall thinks they'll acclimate to each other quickly.

"I've practiced with him quite a bit, when I wasn't playing," Kronwall said. "He's a smart player, he knows where to go and he gives you an out. I think he'll be just fine, I think we'll be just fine. The communication part will be huge."

This will be Ouellet's eighth game of the season and second in a row.

Blashill said Ouellet just needs to keep things fairly simple.

"Continue to build on what he did the last game and that's do a real good job of managing the puck, having poise with the puck," Blashill said. "Making plays when there's a play to be made and not try to do too much when there's not a play to be made. Put it in a safe area or eat it if needed. I think when he plays his best that's what he does and obviously he's got to defend real well and gap up real well. I think he's a good all-around player so hopefully he can continue to build from his last game."

Ouellet said he's ready to bring the things he's worked on in practice into games.

"I got to be active, I got to move my feet," Ouellet said. "I got to move my feet offensively, move my feet defensively. It's something I've been working on when I wasn't playing, so I feet good physically. I got to bring this to my game. I'm fresh and I need to show it."

STARS TONIGHT: The Wings play the Dallas Stars tonight for their last visit to Joe Louis Arena.

The Stars lost to the St. Louis Blues in overtime Monday night, 4-3.

"They're a high-octane team for sure that if you don't stay above them, if you give them opportunities on the line rush, some teams can really make you pay," Blashill said. "They're one of the best at making you pay. If we see lots of line rushes against, we'll be in trouble. We need to make sure we do a great job of being above them, we need to make sure we don't give them lots of room. They're going to create some opportunities on their own, they've got some elite, elite players, but we've got to make sure they don't get any free looks with us. And then we got to do our best job of making them defend. I think ultimately your best defense is making the other team defend so we got to do a good job of that."

Offensively, the Stars are led by Tyler Seguin (7 goals, 16 assists) and Jamie Benn (7 goals, 13 assists).

"I think the biggest thing is you've got to contain them for 60 minutes," Kronwall said. "It's every shift and every bit of every shift. Guys like that, there's some nights where you don't see them but they still walk away with two goals or something like that. They seem to find those areas, those scoring areas. Both of them are extremely talented players and I don't think it takes one guy, I think it takes the unit of five that's on the ice out against them. You have to do it by committee, you have to do it together. Eliminate all the spaces you can and try to make it hard on them that way."

Seguin is tied for fourth in the league in scoring and Benn is tied for seventh.

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