Red Wings' opposites form attractive blue-line pair
Niklas Kronwall -- the direct-speaking, late blooming, lifetime Wing who prefers the left point -- and Brad Stuart -- the soft-spoken, high draft pick who bounced around the league -- don't have a lot in common.
One that the Red Wings' second defense pairing share is hockey sense.
"We see the game similar," said Kronwall.
That sounds simple for two professionals in the same system under the same coaching staff, but it isn't all that common. And having defense partners who aren't in sync can lead to some long shifts on the ice.
"You never really know how you're going to work with somebody until you try it," said Stuart. "It's very important. I've played with guys that just didn't work. You both find yourselves out of position. You kind of never know what the other guy's going to do or what they expect you to do. For me, it's very important to have someone you're on the same page with."
Kronwall and Stuart were partnered through most of the Stanley Cup playoff run last spring and were Detroit's top plus-minus defensemen. This season, the two have been together all three Red Wing games, Kronwall on the left point, Stuart on the right.
Part of their success comes from their physical play. Although Kronwall might deliver the most highlight reel bodychecks among Red Wings, it's a testament to Stuart's hitting that coach Mike Babcock labels the tandem thusly: "One's a puck-mover (Kronwall) and one's physical."
"The big thing is they're just good match-up (defensive) players," said Babcock. "They can move the puck. They can play physical."
Stuart has played with other hard-hitting partners in his well-traveled career, partnering with Robyn Regehr in Calgary.
In Kronwall, Stuart has found of the better partnerships in his career.
"I don't think there's a formula that certain guys have to play together," said Stuart. "He's smart, moves the puck well, skates well. I don't know … we just seem to complement each other well. Obviously we communicate on the ice, but a lot of times we can make plays without having to do that just knowing what each other is going to do."
Mating Kronwall with a defensive-minded partner helps in times when the Swede goes for big hits at the offensive blue line or joins the attack.
"He's always making it easy for me being in the right spot all the time, bailing me out if I jump too soon or if I get turned upside down," said Kronwall. "He makes it easy, talks a lot."
And how does someone from Rocky Mountain House, Alberta, and someone from Djurgarden, Sweden, communicate?
"I'm trying to learn Swedish," joked Stuart.
"He doesn't know it yet," said Kronwall. "We're working on it."