The Malik Report
by George Malik on 02/21/14 at 03:30 PM ET
Henrik Zetterberg's status as having to bow out of the Olympics due to a herniated disc has yielded two and exactly two positive storylines:
1. The Wings and Zetterberg finally chose to have one of the nation's best back surgeons operate on Zetterberg's back today to prevent further damage and hopefully ensure that he's playing for the Wings for a long time to come;
2. And Niklas Kronwall's taken to Team Sweden's captaincy like a fish to water. Today he pestered the hell out of Teemu Selanne and played a team-leading 22:06 in ice time over the course of Sweden's 2-1 win over Finland, and now the Swedes are on a collision course with Mike Babcock and Team Canada in Sunday's Gold Medal game (7 AM EST, NBCSN/CBC).
Both Kronwall's teammates and the rest of the Swedes have gushed about Kronwall's leadership in speaking with the Swedish press, and today, the Free Press's Helene St. James found that Daniel Alfredsson, Jonathan Ericsson and Gabriel Landeskog were more than happy to sing Kronwall's praises in English:
"He was a horse out there," Alfredsson said. "He was physical, he made unbelievable passes, he had poise, he had aggressiveness, and that's hard to do at this stage. When you're him, being the captain, leading by example, sometimes you want to do too much. But with him, I find him just dominating out there. It was great to see. He's a huge leader for us with Henrik gone."
Sweden's shot at gold shone a bit less after the injury to Zetterberg, which came a week after Henrik Sedin pulled out with an injury. Yet now Sweden is where players believed they could be all along, having taken advantage of being in a weak group, then steamrolling through a quarterfinal against upstart Slovenia before denying Finland its game plan of waiting for mistakes and going through the neutral zone with speed. Kronwall led the way as Sweden flexed its muscle. It's what Kronwall has done for years in the playoffs for Detroit, rattling opponents.
"I think, if anything, it's a desire that's in him," Alfredsson said. "It's not that he feels, 'Oh, I'm going to punish that guy.' I think his feeling is, 'If I do this, it's going to help my team.' That's the way he plays. Everything he does seems to be for the team."
Sweden last won Olympic gold at the 2006 Torino Games, their first since Peter Forsberg's stamp-worthy shoot-out goal earned him folk-hero status at the 1994 Lillehammer Games. They won't be favorites Sunday, but that's of little concern to the players. [Erik] Karlsson spent a good minute raving about how much fun the Swedes are having sweeping their way through Sochi, from riding bikes to work to rooming together to winning. Kronwall is a big part of that, because "he is leading by example, and it makes it easier sometimes to take decisions out there," Karlsson said.
Kronwall's key is sticking with the zen of Zetterberg.
"I keep thinking about what Hank says in Detroit — don't get too high, don't get too low," Kronwall said. "That's just something that I keep in the back of my mind. Hank is an unbelievable captain, and we wish he was here with us. He can't be here physically, but mentally, it feels like he is around us."
St. James continues, and regardless of whether you think that Kronwall is in fact a #1 or #2 defenseman, he's excelled as Sweden's #1 guy on 200'x100' ice, and he'll be bringing the confidence he's gained during the Olympics back to Detroit when the games are over.
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The Malik Report is a destination for all things Red Wings-related. I offer biased, perhaps unprofessional-at-times and verbose coverage of my favorite team, their prospects and developmental affiliates. I've joined the Kukla's Korner family with five years of blogging under my belt, and I hope you'll find almost everything you need to follow your Red Wings at a place where all opinions are created equal and we're all friends, talking about hockey and the team we love to follow.