DETROIT – Jonathan Ericsson is still playing his way into game shape.
After missing 13 contests with a broken wrist, Ericsson returned to the Red Wings lineup a week ago today. While the defenseman’s ice time for the first two games back hovered around 16 minutes per night, that situation changed during last Sunday’s win over Florida.
Ericsson was paired up with captain and fellow Swede Nick Lidstrom. Ericsson logged over 23 minutes playing with the seven-time Norris Trophy winner on that particular evening. For a player who has been trying to find a consistent level to his game, the pairing has been quite beneficial.
Playing with one of the all-time greats, as he will again do tonight versus St. Louis, certainly doesn’t hinder the process.
“Nick does everything so well, and creates time for you,” Ericsson said. “I’m not nervous at all. It’s just an honor to play with him, and try to embrace that as a challenge of playing against other teams’ top lines.”
On top of facing opponents’ top scorers, Ericsson must do so while at the same time improving his conditioning. While his broken wrist did not prohibit him from skating during rehabilitation, there is simply no substitute for NHL game action.
The playoffs, which are just three games away, test every player’s meddle. Ericsson realizes he must use every shift of those final three regular season contests to get back to speed. As it stands, the colossal blueliner welcomes all the preparation.
“It would be tough to jump right into a playoff game,” Ericsson explained. “Those games are so intense and important, so it’s really good for me to get back and play a few games, and get my confidence back a little bit.”
That should come easily for Ericsson knowing that he need only look down the blue line at Lidstrom, a player whose calming influence makes a definitive change in the Detroit style of play.
Wings coach Mike Babcock supported the notion that Ericsson’s recovery could be more expedient, compared to other recent injuries the team has suffered.
“Unlike the other guys that were injured he (Ericsson) is quicker to get back, because he skated the whole time,” Babcock explained.
“He could do stuff, whereas Pavel (Datsyuk) with his knee or Nick (Lidstrom) with his ankle or (Jimmy Howard) with his groin, you haven’t played hockey. So you got to get back. When you first get back you’re tired after a little bit, you’re worn down. You’ve got to get that second wind, and that energy in you, so you can be what you’re capable of being.”
DOTING ON DETROIT: St. Louis coach Ken Hitchcock has guided his team to an outstanding season, one that has seen the Blues capture the Central Division crown. The coach believes, however, that the Red Wings remain a formidable foe.
“We’re certainly thinking that they’re top dog,” Hitchcock said. “We’ve proved one thing, that we can win the Central Division. But, getting far in the playoffs and beating teams like that, that’s the next telling tale. We haven’t been able to prove that yet. It’s our job to try and prove that.”
Winger David Perron, who is tied for second on the team with 19 goals this season, also had good things to say about Detroit.
Asked if the Red Wings were still a powerful team, Perron was clear in his response.
“I think they are every single night,” he said. “It doesn’t matter if they’ve been struggling or not. They’re a force every single night. I think their support players are really good players also. I think they’re certainly a team (where) you have to pay attention when their guys are on the ice.”
QUINCEY’S CONSEQUENCE: Defenseman Kyle Quincey will serve his one-game suspension tonight against St. Louis. Quincey received the ban after a high hit on Florida’s Tomas Kopecky. While his sentiments might not echo those of the league, Quincey will nonetheless take his punishment and move on.
“I respect the decision,” Quincey said.
Ultimately, the defenseman felt that the manner in which he hit Kopecky – his feet left the playing surface – led to the resulting suspension.
“Yeah, that was the issue,” Quincey explained. “It had nothing to do with the elbow. It was that my feet were up in the air, so that was the issue.”
Forward Jan Mursak also will miss tonight’s game; Jimmy Howard is expected to get the nod in goal.
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