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Notes: DeKeyser questionable for Thursday, Kronwall could be ready

Mike Green off to fastest offensive start of his career

by Dana Wakiji @Dwakiji /

SCOTTSDALE - The Red Wings could look a little different on the blue line Thursday night in Arizona, depending on the health of a couple of players.

Danny DeKeyser, who did not finish Tuesday night's game in Dallas due to a lower-body injury, is a question mark.

"Danny is day to day right now, so we'll see (Thursday) morning," Wings coach Jeff Blashill said. "He didn't skate (Wednesday). We'll see (Thursday) how he feels. It's going to be a thing where it's pain tolerance for him."

Meanwhile, Niklas Kronwall, who was plagued with back spasms during training camp and a tweaked groin of late, appears to be very close.

"It's getting there definitely," Kronwall said after the optional practice Wednesday. "No setbacks so I think I'll be good to go tomorrow. We'll see what they say here. I'll be ready.

"It feels pretty good, still a little off on timing and things like that. There's certain things that you can only get by playing games."

Blashill said they will decide Thursday whether Kronwall can play against the Coyotes.

The other concern is the Wings are scheduled to play their first set of back-to-back games Thursday in Arizona and Friday in Las Vegas.

"I think that's something that I'll have conversations with our training staff, with Nik about," Blashill said. "He's not necessarily 100 percent prohibited. It's not necessarily the best thing that you always want to do when a guy comes back after not playing for a long time. But let's see."

Naturally, if Kronwall is cleared to play Thursday, his preference would be to play in both games.

"I'd love to play back to back," Kronwall said. "Once you're going again, you want to play every game. And of course, you talk to the medical team and see what their thoughts are. But if you're healthy, you want to play as many games as possible."

DeKeyser's uncertain status gives more importance to whether Kronwall will be available but the decision can't be made because of that.

"I've been itching to get back in obviously and you feel bad for DK, I hope it's nothing too serious because we need him on the ice," Kronwall said. "But in saying that, of course you don't want to be down (for an extended time). You'd like to get back in there as soon as possible."

Last season Kronwall missed the first 11 games of the season because of a chronic knee issue, which has not been the problem this year.

"It's been a little frustrating, there's no doubt about that," Kronwall said. "The knee's been feeling pretty good. But in saying that, you can't feel sorry for yourself, it is what it is. You try to stay positive and do what you can to put yourself in a better spot for tomorrow."

There is also some flexibility with the roster because of the presence of Luke Witkowski, who has played forward for the Wings in two games but has also been a defenseman in the league.

"When he's in the lineup, if you run short on D, you can slide him back there," Blashill said. "The hard thing is getting him enough practices at both positions. I don't want him to be so far in between that he's not comfortable with either. That's something that we've got to manage."

GREEN'S IMPACT: In the first three games this season, defenseman Mike Green has six assists.

Green has never had a faster start to the season points-wise than this year.

"Greener's looking as good as I've seen him, just so smooth, so in control of the game," Kronwall said. "When he's on the ice, he's really pacing the play out there. With a guy like that, you'd like for him to have the puck as much as possible. Greener's looking great, no doubt."

Last season Green reached six points in his fourth game, helped by scoring his first career hat trick during the home opener against the Ottawa Senators.

"I just think last year and the beginning of this year he's been excellent for us," Blashill said. "He's really done a good job of breaking us out and then a good job of making a ton of plays coming up the ice. He's attacking the game. He's been good defensively. He's a total winner. He comes to the rink every day to get better. I think he's been a real good player for us."

Green has reached the six-point mark in five games in two different seasons, in 2014-15 and 2008-09.

Green has said that earlier in his career he was much more focused on offense but has tried to create a more well-balanced game since then.

"When he came up and the team (Washington Capitals) that they had had just so much talent, it seemed back then they were winning more often than not, 6-5 or 5-4," Kronwall said. "The game is a little bit different nowadays. We play a little bit more structured here. But of course playing against him all those years, you know how talented he was offensively.

"I think defensively, since he's come here, he's taken huge steps. He's a guy that we rely on at both ends now, which is very encouraging to see. He still has the offensive upside but very strong in the defensive end also. He's been a big part of our team here the last few years and he's going to be a big part moving forward also."

Blashill said it isn't just Green's talent that has impressed him as he's gotten to know him.

"I've just been so impressed with his care level, his approach every day. He goes 100 percent every single day. He wants to be great. He listens. He makes adjustments in his game. He certainly has learned defense skating forwards, using his great skating ability and lateral gapping, as opposed to skating backwards. I think that's been a good adjustment for him. Just in the time he's been here I've seen him get better in those areas. And I also think we got more comfortable last year where I let him attack the game more and it's been a positive."

Green will celebrate his 32nd birthday on Thursday.

FACE-OFF ISSUES: Like many teams, the Wings are still adjusting to the league crackdown on face-off violations.

Against the Dallas Stars Tuesday, they won just 23 percent of their face-offs in the first period and 42 percent for the game.

Although it's a small sample size, the Wings sit 29th in the league in face-off winning percentage at 43.8, ahead of the Colorado Avalanche at 38.4 and the Coyotes at 38.

"Obviously (Henrik) Zetterberg and (Frans) Nielsen, they've been around the league a long time. They're really smart people," Blashill said. "We're going to find ways to be successful and we have to be successful with it. I'm going to work with them. We'll have ideas on our end and they'll have ideas on their end and hopefully we can get to a point where we're better at them."

Zetterberg has voiced his frustration with getting kicked out of the draw.

"For the second guy who comes in, you might as well just give the face-off away, because you don't want to be that guy in the box," Zetterberg said after Tuesday's loss. "Not move at all, I think that's the safest thing, but then you won't win any face-offs either."

It can be a challenge for players who have been in the league a long time to change long-established habits.

"Most of the best face-off guys have been around the league a long time," Blashill said. "I think it's a little disadvantage for guys that aren't tall. The taller guys have an advantage the way it's being called right now because you can't lean into the circle quite as much as you used to. That's something we'll have to keep looking at and finding ways. But the other side of it too, is that I think our wingers have to do a better job of helping us win those 50/50 puck battles."

Zetterberg is 6-feet and Nielsen 6-foot-1.

OPTIONAL PRACTICE: With the team playing in Dallas Tuesday night and arriving late in Arizona, Wednesday's practice was optional.

Only 10 players elected to go to the Ice Den to skate, with the rest remaining behind for off-ice workouts and treatment.

The players who skated were Kronwall, Nick Jensen, Xavier Ouellet, Luke Witkowski, Luke Glendening, Riley Sheahan, Martin Frk, David Booth, Jimmy Howard and Petr Mrazek.

The Wings plan to hold a regular morning skate before their game against the Coyotes Thursday.

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