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Notebook: Wings' defense carries load

by Michelle Crechiolo / Detroit Red Wings
DETROIT – With the Red Wings battling every game for much-needed points in the Western Conference playoff race, it’s easy to think that players like Brad Stuart would start to feel the grind.

“Anybody will tell you, the more you play the more you feel into the game,” said Stuart after Wednesday’s practice at Joe Louis Arena. “I think you get up around 25, 26 minutes, it can be a little bit taxing night-after-night, but you kind of learn how to kind of pick your spots as far as expending energy. And then you got to make sure you’re just taking the days off to really take care of yourself and recuperate.”

While Tuesday’s shootout loss in St. Louis was disappointing, the Wings’ defensive corps logged an impressive amount of ice time against a far younger group of Blues’ forwards. Wings captain Nicklas Lidstrom played more than any member of both teams, recording 34 shifts for 29:32 of ice time. His partner Brian Rafalski ranked second among all players with 32 shifts for 28:29 of ice time.

Yet it was Stuart who quietly accommodated almost as many minutes as the Wings’ top defensive pairing, skating 30 shifts for 22:35 of ice time. With the absence of Niklas Kronwall, Stuart has been forced to adapt a much more intensive role with the team, being one of only three Red Wings to skate in all 59 games.

Derek Meech, who is also logging increased minutes with the absence of Kronwall, is soaking up as much as he can by watching veterans Stuart, Lidstrom, and Rafalski. 

“I’ve been lucky to be able to watch those guys like Nick and Raf, and you know, Kronner and Stuey and all these guys here,” Meech said. “And whether you like it or not, you’re going to soak up some of that stuff just by watching them game in, game out.

“I think as a group of D-men, we’ve been doing a pretty good job.”

While Tuesday wasn’t what the Wings wanted, the defensemen have already recovered and are prepared to stall the offensive spark of the San Jose Sharks, who boast a league-best eight Olympians and the second-best record in the NHL.

“We’ve played them three times already this year, and I think our approach has to be the same,” Stuart said, “just try to limit the opportunities that those top guys are going to get.”

SWIMMING WITH THE SHARKS: When Detroit and San Jose face off, it always results in a playoff-type atmosphere. Although the Sharks lead the Western Conference with 87 points, that fact seems to mean nothing when the teams hit the ice, with the Wings leading the season series 2-0-1.

Former Wings assistant coach Todd McLellan, who spent three seasons with Detroit under Mike Babcock, coaches the Sharks. Their similar systems might be the reason for the Wings’ success.

“We match up well against them, we both play the same systems, with Todd being the head coach for San Jose, and used to work here,” Wings goalie Jimmy Howard said.

MULE’S FEELING GOOD: Johan Franzen was impressive in his first game back since Oct. 8, logging 17:28 of ice time and recording an assist and adding four shots on Tuesday.

“Yesterday I felt really good,” he said. “I’m surprised, no problems.”

INJURY REPORT: For the second straight game, the Wings will be without Kronwall and forward Patrick Eaves. Veteran Tomas Holmstrom is a “game-time decision,” according to Babcock.

Holmstrom tested out his bruised left knee at practice Wednesday, but left the ice when it became sore. He is questionable for Thursday’s game.

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