Detroit Red Wings: How Do You Solve A Problem Like Defense
The Red Wings’ Defensemen are in awe of Nick Lidstrom, but to be honest, I think anyone who’s ever watched and understood hockey, should be in awe of Nick Lidstrom. Not only a great player, but also an exceptionally intelligent man, it’s often thought his first language is Swedish, when really, his first language is ‘awesome’. He sits, and rightly so, as the number 1 defenseman in the franchise. His defensive partner is Brian Rafalski, a former New Jersey Devil. A veteran of both the NHL as Swedish and Finnish leagues, Rafalski once made a mistake, just to see what it felt like. Between them, Rafalski and Lidstrom hold 6 Stanley Cup wins and 3 Olympic medals. No arguing with the top Defensive line then? Not so.
The physical play of Nik Kronwall reminds Wings fans of a slightly older category (like myself!), of players like Derian Hatcher and Mathieu Schneider. He can shoot, he can block, and he can certainly hit. Kronwall’s ability to light up forwards over the blue line is something the first line does not possess, and Lidstrom has found himself paired with his fellow Swede on a number of occasions. Kronwall has been so prolific in his hitting, that since 2009 has had his own verb, ‘Kronwalled’. Shoring up the first two defensive lines is currently Brad Stuart, who plays in a similar style to Kronwall, but is a little less physical, and a bit more pass-minded and can grow a better beard. Stuart is more likely to set up a through pass, or play along the boards to a forward in good position for breakaways, than attempt to get his name in lights. Even so, there’s a nice little mixture, and between the four of them, Babcock can play a physical line and a skill/finesse, or mix them around (which he frequently does).
The issues come with the final two defensemen. Currently battling it out for ice time on the third line are Ruslan Salei, Jonathan Ericsson, and rookie Jakub Kindl. Belarus native Salei has been switching with young D-man Kindl for a few games now, and as the Wings reach the end of the season, it’s about to become more important than ever to solidify your place in the dressed list for the playoffs.
Ericsson shows a lot of promise, but seems to struggle to actually achieve the potential he has headed on him. Wayward passes and regular penalty minutes mean he’s often berated by Red Wings fans for turnovers in dangerous areas and needless penalty kill requirements. The Swede fights when required to, but rarely throws his weight around in hits.
Kindl has certainly come good in this regular season. With only 3 NHL games to his name before last October, the 24-year old Czech has played nearly 50 games, and the experience has seen him well. He has easily usurped the ‘extra defenceman’ tag from Doug Janik, who has only played 7 games this year.
Finally, Belorussian Salei is the veteran of the three, and has been deserving of his jersey in the main. His recent comments to the press that he’s played all year and now in the final few weeks of the season has to fight for his position, seem to show his frustration at being possibly switched out for a younger player. He took a few days off to be with his wife during the birth of their child, and for those games, was replaced by the impressive Kindl. Tough call to make for Rusty though. Be with your wife in a time of great change, or lose your place in the Red Wings team. Much as though I’m sure Salei doesn’t exactly want to be divorced, I think I’d have taken the other option. But maybe I say that because I’m already divorced?
So how do you choose? Should a player’s space on the roster be chosen for him on the strength of a good beard? Well, Kindl is still only young, and therefore a playoff beard on him is likely to be poor, whilst Salei is sure to be sporting a fine array of face fungus in a few days. You cannot count out Ericsson though, with his fellow countrymen Tomas Holmstrom and Johan Franzen both cultivating some impressive whiskers in short periods of time. Maybe it’s something to do with all the snow in Sweden, and your face trying to keep itself warm?
Anyway, what matters is that the right players are chosen. With Ericsson’s poor form of late, and Kindl’s excellent play, coupled with Salei’s experience, and obvious desire to make the team, I think the Swede should make way. It would be tough for Ericsson to take, but when you’re giving up the puck in your own zone, then you should expect to get benched, even in the PeeWee leagues…