Without a true number-one defenseman, the Detroit Red Wings have struggled. Niklas Kronwall is playing on a permanently bad knee and has slowed down. Danny DeKeyser has taken a huge step back after signing a six-year, $30 million contract.
All season long, Detroit’s defense has struggled to get pucks out of the zone and has given up way too many turnovers (cough- cough, Jonathan Ericsson) and scoring chances, hanging the goalies out to dry much too often. Despite this fact, Jeff Blashill has failed to make the proper adjustments to the lineup. However, he will be forced to do so when the Red Wings take on the Los Angeles Kings, as both Kronwall and Brendan Smith suffered lower-body injuries in Anaheim.
Alexey Marchenko will return after missing nine games due to a shoulder injury. Ryan Sproul will return after being a healthy scratch for four straight games.
Blashill said with Smith and Kronwall out, Marchenko, back from shoulder injury, and Sproul will play tomorrow at Kings
— Ansar Khan (@AnsarKhanMLive) January 5, 2017
While it is unfortunate that two of Detroit’s best defensemen in Kronwall and Smith went down with injuries, adding Marchenko and Sproul to the lineup will provide a much-needed change. Marchenko won’t light up the scoreboard, but he is reliable in the defensive zone and a good shot blocker.
Sproul brings offensive upside into the lineup. He has a big right-handed shot and has shown that he can create scoring chances, recording six points in 18 games (1 G, 5 A). He provides a boost to a laughable Red Wings power play that has not converted on the road since October 19th and looked like mini-mites last night in Anaheim, going 0 for 3. Three of Sproul’s six points have come on the power play this season.
It is strange that Jeff Blashill has scratched Ryan Sproul for such long periods of time this season. He also did so with Xavier Ouellet earlier this season, who has been one of the better defensemen for the Red Wings. Keeping a young, developing players with the potential of Sproul out of the lineup for so long only impedes that player’s development. Players like Jonathan Ericsson, a turnover machine, should not consistently be in the lineup over a young player like Sproul.
During Mike Babcock’s tenure in Detroit, he rotated young players in and out of the lineup every game. This ensured that no one stayed out of the lineup for long periods of time. Blashill should follow this blueprint. At this point in the season with playoff chances looking bleak, it makes more sense for the Red Wings to play their younger players so they can get their feet wet in the league and build off of their experience.
With Marchenko and Sproul in the lineup, the Red Wings will look to snap their two-game losing streak and defeat a Kings team that is without Jonathan Quick.