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Wings' defense is offensive lately

by Bill Roose / Detroit Red Wings
Red Wings defenseman Niklas Kronwall is on the All-Star Game ballot this season for the first time in his career. (Photo by Dave Sandford)
ST. LOUIS – Even though the Red Wings are facing one of the league’s worst penalty-killing units tonight, nothing can be taken for granted now that the Blues are under the direction of new head coach Ken Hitchcock.

The Blues’ penalty-kill ranks No. 27 in the league (13-of-54), but in the three games since Hitchcock replaced Davis Payne, who was fired last week, the Blues have allowed just two power-play goals in 13 attempts.

“I thought Andy Murray did a good job with them, I thought Davis Payne did a good job with them, and now Hitch has a more finished product here,” Wings coach Mike Babcock said. “It looks to me like they’re deep in all positions and they’re playing hard.”

Meanwhile, the Wings are without defenseman Ian White (fractured cheekbone), and will deploy a different look on the first power-play unit tonight, Babcock said.

Niklas Kronwall will join captain Nicklas Lidstrom on the blue line of the first unit, while Brad Stuart and Jakub Kindl will man the second group.

In their current four-game winning streak, the Wings are 3-for-19 on the power-play. The Wings have gotten tremendous offensive support from the back-end, especially in even-strength play from Kronwall, who has three goals and two assists in a five-game point streak.

“Well, Kronner is a guy that we need, obviously,” Babcock said. “He’s an upper-echelon player in the league and we need him to continue to contribute. … You want your back end to be active and jump in.”

On a few occasions this season, Kronwall has jumped into the play, often finding an open area in the face-off to receive a pass from a winger and blasting a shot from close-range. His aggressiveness has result in several scoring opportunities, but in doing so others on the ice need to be aware that he has vacated his post on the blue line.

“You just have to make sure that there’s another forward that’s looking out for that and maybe covering for him for the few seconds that he’s in there,” Stuart said. “That puts some more responsibility on the forwards and for me I just need to see what is happening in front of me in case I need to yell at a forward to cover for a couple of seconds. Sometimes you have to communicate and let guys know what’s going on because sometimes I’m the only one who can see from the blue line.”

So far Kronwall’s anticipation has been spot on for the Wings. Both Lidstrom and Kronwall are among the league’s top 10 scoring defensemen, with six and four goals respectively.

“He’s been good and knowing the right time to jump in and look for the pass,” Stuart said, of Kronwall. “It’s just his timing that’s been pretty good. He’s been getting a lot of opportunities because of it. It’s not an easy thing to do, to time it just perfect so when you’re open the forward has an opportunity to give it to you. He’s done a real good job of that.”

While Wings’ defensemen have scored in five of the last six games, some credit, and rightly so, needs to go to the forwards and the net-front presence that they supply.

“Obviously they’re finding holes when they shoot the puck,” forward Justin Abdelkader said. “I think a big part of it is having a net-presence and screening the goalie because a lot of point shots are usually saved by the goalies, so it’s good for the forwards to get in front of the goalies as much as possible.”

Follow Bill Roose on Twitter | @RooseBill

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