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Notes: Kronwall hopes to celebrate birthday with a win

Jensen enjoys playing in front of family and friends; Wild wary of Wings' speed

by Dana Wakiji @Dwakiji / DetroitRedWings.com

ST. PAUL -- When Red Wings defenseman Niklas Kronwall first came into the league, he had to keep his head on a swivel when Jan. 12 rolled around.

That's because then-teammate Kris Draper would be lurking, waiting to catch the birthday boy off guard so he could deliver a shaving cream pie to the face.

With so many younger teammates now, they wouldn't dare do such a thing to a respected player like Kronwall.

"Times are changing in a lot of ways," Kronwall laughed after the team's optional morning skate at Xcel Energy Center. "No, but after Drapes, Big E (Jonathan Ericsson) took over, but got rid of the shaving cream because of the effect to the eyes. Whipped cream was the next thing, but we haven't had that happening. I think he's losing his touch a little. He's losing it."

Tweet from @DetroitRedWings: Happy Birthday Kronner! 🎂🎉 pic.twitter.com/gxZBMBsl5n

Instead, Kronwall had to settle for his coach having some fun at his expense.

"I didn't know that, is it his 48th?" Wings coach Jeff Blashill joked.

After being told that it was, in fact, Kronwall's 38th birthday, Blashill got a little more serious.

"Nik's been great this year, he looks as good as he has in the four years I've been here," Blashill said. "When I was an assistant here, I thought he was one of the best D in the league, I thought he was a guy that always got overshadowed. Obviously, he had a guy on his team that was one of the best of all-time at that time, with (Nick) Lidstrom. I think Kronner is a heck of a player, he's an unbelievable warrior and I'll tell you he's been outstanding this year. His poise on the ice, his poise with the puck, his physicality, his defending, his smarts, those have all really been showing and he's done a great job."

After missing the first three games of the season with a lower-body injury, Kronwall has been a mainstay on Detroit's banged-up blueline.

Against the Winnipeg Jets Friday, Kronwall was second only to Mike Green in ice time among defensemen, 21:21 to Green's 22:12 and third overall. Dylan Larkin led the team with 23:21.

Kronwall is averaging 19:44 this season, the most since averaging 22:01 during the 2015-16 season.

"The body's feeling pretty good compared to what it's been the last few years," Kronwall said. "Where I'm at, I'll definitely take it. If it can stay like this for the year, I'll be happy."

Kronwall's 13 points (2-11-13) are second among defensemen behind Green and rookie Dennis Cholowski, each with 16 points.

Kronwall's seven-year, $33.25 million contract ends after this season but Blashill believes Kronwall still has more good hockey left.

"The way he's playing now, I wouldn't put a limit on it," Blashill said. "I can't say how much, but I know right he's playing real good hockey and to me sometimes I think you get used to pain and I don't want to speak for him and he might not even know this, but I think he's used to some of the pain that he deals with on a daily basis. He's an incredible warrior, he goes through tons of pain to play and if he keeps playing at this high level, he's a big factor for us."

Although none of Kronwall's teammates bought him a present, he'd settle for a victory against the Minnesota Wild.

"No doubt. I think we're way overdue," Kronwall said. "We've played at times pretty good hockey but you've got to be able to do it for 60 minutes, and that's something we haven't been able to string together. We just gotta keep staying positive, try and do the right things out there."

Tweet from @DetroitRedWings: "We just got to keep staying positive, keep working, try and do the right things out there."Niklas Kronwall ahead of #DETvsMIN: pic.twitter.com/RirACGt7MY

HOMETOWN KID: Another player who would appreciate a win against the Wild is Minnesota native Nick Jensen, who is expecting a large contingent at the game.

"My family, and my wife's from here, too, so I got her family coming, and I got some high school buddies coming," Jensen said. "Some of them had tickets for awhile. I got the parents and in-laws tickets. My wife is coming, too. She's here. A big group. A lot of people already had tickets. It's a big thing in Minnesota, hockey. They like going to see the games."

Jensen said playing near home is always special.

"It's always nice coming to your home state, being able to see your family and friends kind of watch you live your dream," Jensen said. "They were all part of it growing up. They were in my high school, they were there for me when I was little playing peewee hockey. It's pretty exciting."

Tweet from @DetroitRedWings: "They were all part of it growing up. They were in my high school, they were there for me when I was little playing peewee hockey. It's pretty exciting."Jensen on having his friends and family in the stands tonight in his home state: pic.twitter.com/h9eWXwR6ya

WILD CHALLENGE: Two nights ago, the Wild beat the Winnipeg Jets, the team that beat the Wings Friday.

The Wild are 21-18-3, fifth in the Central Division and ninth in the Western Conference.

Tweet from @DetroitRedWings: Back to work in Minnesota. #RedWings, Wild tonight. #LGRW pic.twitter.com/GwKqumdleS

Since moving to the Eastern Conference, the Wings don't face the Wild very often.

"That's definitely a bit of a challenge," Kronwall said. "We just play them twice a year now. We haven't played them this year yet. It'll be fun. They're a good team, a heavy team and they got good players at all positions and a good goaltender back there. That will be a challenge for us."

Blashill emphasized that the Wild have the ability to use their size to their advantage.

"Extremely, extremely heavy team, both ends of the ice, real good offensively, bringing it to the bottom, attacking the slot, they get their D active enough with a high of three, but just a heavy O-zone team," Blashill said. "And then the reverse, it's really hard to get to the net. They're the best in the league at giving up the least amount of chances in the slot, the least amount of chances from the inner slot, they're very strong on their sticks, they're very good on those areas, so it's hard to manufacture a lot of offense against them because of that. And obviously when you do, they got a real good goalie. It'll be a real good challenge tonight. They're fighting like crazy, we're fighting like crazy, it should be a good hockey game."

Tweet from @DetroitRedWings: Coach Blashill previews #DETvsMIN: pic.twitter.com/6hU3dsBZR0

Although the Wings have struggled of late, Wild coach Bruce Boudreau is wary of their speed.

"I watched their game last night," Boudreau said. "The Red Wings dominated the game in the last two periods. They're as fast a skating team with the forwards up front that maybe there are in the league. We're going to have to be aware and be ready. I think they're a little bit snake-bit but they're playing pretty good at this stage."

GREEN'S RETURN: Green did not seem to miss a beat in his return to the lineup Friday after missing 13 games with a foot injury.

Green had 28 shifts for 22:12, had five shots, two hits, a giveaway, a takeaway, two blocked shots and was minus-2.

"I thought Mike looked real good," Blashill said. "I think the first game back though lots of times is the game guys look real good. I think the challenge is to keep staying with it, both mentally and physically being on top of your game. When Mike's on the ice you're able to move the puck out of your zone way better, you're able to transition the puck in the neutral zone way better and you create more offense. He's a big factor. He was real good last night."

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