DETROIT >> Johan Franzen has picked up right where he left off.
And that’s a very good sign for the Detroit Red Wings as they fight to extend their record run for berths in the postseason to 23 seasons.
Since returning from a concussion, Franzen has three goals and two assists over two games.
“He finds different ways to score and he’s in the right spots and he makes things happen out there,” Niklas Kronwall said. “We’re happy he’s back playing for us. Obviously he’s a big part of our team.”
After missing 16 straight games due to a concussion he returned for one game before going back to the sidelines for the final six games before the Olympic break.
“The key for me is that he’s healthy,” Wings coach Mike Babcock said. “It’s hard to do it when you’re sitting in the press box. He’s an important player for us. He has the ability, he has the touch. Lots of guys play hard and don’t score, Mule can score.”
Prior to getting sidelined on Dec. 15 when Tampa Bay’s Radko Gudas hit him in the face during a battle for the puck, Franzen had seven goals and 10 assists over his last 17 games.
Having Franzen find his scoring touch will help a team that has lost Henrik Zetterberg for the rest of the regular season after having back surgery.
And playing Ottawa always seems to help Franzen’s offensive output. He has 11 goals in his past four games against the Senators, including a five-goal outburst back in 2011.
“I like playing here,” Franzen said. “They’ve got Erik Karlsson on the other side. We grew up in the same little town. It’s fun to come in and play him. It’s something special every time. Just happy anytime we can keep him from the scoreboard, but it’s always fun to play him too.”
Franzen has 12 goals and 16 assists through 33 games this season.
“Regardless of where he is the puck’s coming to him,” Kronwall said. “Happy he’s back playing.”
“He’s obviously a really good player,” goalie Jonas Gustavsson said. “It’s always tough when you miss a piece like Zetterberg. You can’t really replace him, but the guys that are playing are really doing a good job. They showed that the whole season because we’ve been having a lot of injuries.
“We know what everyone in this organization is capable of and we believe in our group, whoever we put on the ice,” Gustavsson continued. “That’s the way it’s going to be, we can’t really focus on injured guys, we’ve got to focus on the guys that are playing. If you look at the talent we have in this organization we should be fine no matter how many injures we get.”
But Franzen’s growing concern is concussions becoming a recurring thing.
“It’s always going to be in the back of my head that it might come back because it did the last time,” Franzen said. “(I’ve) just got to go out there and try and see what happens.”
And that’s what made the incident Franzen, who notched his third career hat trick earlier in the game, had with Senators tough guy Chris Neil in the third period Thursday very alarming.
Neil ripped Franzen’s helmet off and then began to rough up the Wings forward.
“It’s probably not the best thing to do, getting hit in the face, but I don’t know, maybe the ref can stop that before it happens, I don’t know,” Franzen said. “He hit me once, but then the ref came in.”
Franzen began laughing on the ice when Neil, who received a roughing and a 10-minute misconduct penalty, tried to engage him to fight.
“I think he got a little upset,” Franzen said. “I don’t know (why), I have no clue. He usually shows up when the game’s over and tries to be the hero. Puts his cape on and goes and flies around out there. He doesn’t like to take heat from fans and coaches, I think. He usually steps up when the game is over and shows everyone that he really fights hard.”
Franzen also received a 10-minute misconduct.
“He tried to high-stick me after the draw right away and then he came after me, so I tried to stay close to him,” Franzen said. “(I don’t know) if he was going to run me into anything. He decided to rip the helmet off and hit me in the face.”
The two teams don’t meet again this regular season.
Neil, who didn’t speak after the game, addressed the incident Friday.
“The first shift and any shift he wants,” Neil told the Ottawa media after practice. “(If) he wants to drop his purse, take the lipstick out, put it on his lips and ‘Let’s go.’ Anytime. Any day. Anywhere. I’m 6-foot-1, 215 pounds. He’s 6-foot-4, 240 pounds. I’m giving up height. I’m giving up weight. I’m not scared of him. Bring it on.”
Despite his size, Franzen is a skill player and not anywhere near a fighter.
“I’d take my cape off (if) he took the yellow streak off down the middle of his back,” Neil said.