Niklas Kronwall had the hit of the game as the Detroit Red Wings lost, 3-2. Filmed Dec. 8, 2018 in Detroit.
Helene St. James, Detroit Free Press
In the twilight of his career, Niklas Kronwall is still serving up big hits.
The Detroit Red Wings’ senior resident drew recognition from inside his own locker room and that of the visitors after Saturday’s game at Little Caesars Arena. The Wings lost, 3-2, to the New York Islanders, but provided another example of standing up for one another, in this case, a young leader for his oldest teammate.
The game came to a halt for nearly four minutes late in the first period after Kronwall led with his left shoulder as he stepped into a hit on Anders Lee along the boards. Lee, who at 6-foot-3 and 231 pounds, has three inches and nearly 40 pounds on Kronwall, fell in a heap.
In his prime, Kronwall was so renown for his big hits it spawned the word, “Kronwall-ed.”
Lee, who finished the game, had no issue with the hit.
“I just got caught with my head down, the puck at my feet, and he just put a nice shoulder into me,” Lee said. “That’s hockey.”
That’s what the Wings thought, too, yet it took officials several minutes to decide not to call a penalty.
“I just thought it was too much talk,” Wings coach Jeff Blashill said. “It was a clean hit and let’s move on. I got told why it was a clean hit.”
The hit, which came a minute after Kronwall had scored to make it 2-0, fired up the Islanders. Josh Bailey swung his stick at Kronwall and knocked him down, prompting Dylan Larkin to fight Bailey. It’d be devastating for the Wings to lose Larkin to a hand injury from a fight — especially in the same week they lost Anthony Mantha for four-to-six weeks because of a hand injury sustained while fighting — but Larkin’s response plays into the identity the Wings are forging.
“We suffered a consequence with Mantha being out, but if you have a team that doesn’t want to stick up for each other, you have a bad team,” Blashill said. “They don’t care about each other. We have a team that cares about each other and wants to stick up for each other and certainly they care tons about Kronwall and they saw kind of a cheap shot on him, and Dylan stood up. Do I want Dylan Larkin fighting all the time? No. But he has to make those decisions on the ice and I want us to be a group that stands up for each other for sure.”
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Kronwall said the Wings need Larkin on the ice, not serving time in the penalty box, but appreciated the message.
“You love seeing stuff like that, guys sticking up for each other,” Kronwall said. “Larks is our best player and we need him on the ice as much as possible, but awesome to see him show his emotions out there.”
Of his hit, Kronwall said he was just stepping into the guy.
“The hard part when you’re coming north-south is to not touch the head at all, I think,” Kronwall said. “When you’re skating you’re in a position where you’re head is the point of your body that is the most forward. You try to go through the chest or shoulder, but sometimes you end up catching them near the head.”
Kronwall turns 38 on Jan. 12. He is in the last year of his contract, and has been playing with a permanently bad knee for the past couple seasons. He just logged career NHL Game No. 900 the other night in Toronto. He isn’t the player he used to be, but his resolve never hasn’t faded. This is as good as he has looked since Blashill took over as head coach in 2015.
“I thought the first half of my first year he was real good, until he hurt his knee,” Blashill said. “But this is as good since that point. He’s been excellent most of the year. This is certainly as physical as he’s been, more back to when I was an assistant here and he would lay those Kronwall hits. We’ve talked about having a physical impact on games — he’s taken that to heart and done a great job.”
Contact Helene St. James: email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @helenestjames.