One bit that's been kind of lost in the wash of late on the Wings' much-improved March defense has been the good play of Jakub Kindl. The Red Wings' rookie isn't exactly tearing it up on the scoresheet like his scouting report promises for the future, but he's been playing pretty solid in his own zone. Combine that with what could be considered struggles by veteran defenseman Ruslan Salei to truly pull out of a defensive funk he had been in for the last couple months and that he's had to miss playing and practice time for familial reasons and head coach Mike Babcock has taken notice of the dynamic forming.
Ansar Khan reported on the battle between the two defensemen, framing it as a battle between a stay-at-home veteran whose grip on his job is slipping and an up-and-coming puck-mover trying to make the most of an opportunity. When asked about the competition for the #6 spot (which apparently Jonathan Ericsson finds himself playing above), Babcock had this to say:
"I want someone to take the job. I don't want to rotate them,'' coach Mike Babcock said. "So it's up for grabs. One of them better grab it.''
Furthering the point, Babcock wouldn't say what, specifically he was looking from out of either player, but recognizes that they're of different skillsets and that he expects each to do his duty within his own idiom.
"I've already talked to them about that. They know, let's just see. It's a situation where we want to win each and every night. We want to give ourselves the best chance to be successful in the playoffs. They're both different type players. So bring what you bring.''
Salei doesn't seem extraordinarily happy with the news that his job is being challenged so late in the season, offering this in response to questioning:
I've been playing the whole year and now he feels like we have to fight for it, so I guess I have to fight for it. I got some time off with my newborn, so I guess it had a little effect on my game.
While Kindl is understandably subdued and diplomatic in his statements:
"Whenever I have the opportunity I just got to show (Babcock) I want to take the job,'' Kindl said. "I don't way to say it's a battler between us. I want to play, he wants to play. It's coach's decision.''
The question becomes whether it's a true rotation or whether Babcock is simply trying to motivate Salei to work a little harder and focus a little more in a part of the season when the Wings are gearing up for their 20th straight playoff appearance. On its face, the players have alternated the last three games, both playing around 12-15 minutes and each going a -1 in that stretch. However, seeing that Salei was given the starts against both Vancouver and Chicago while Kindl faced the Maple Leafs and will face the Blues tonight, it's a little difficult to overlook the strength differences of Detroit's opponents during this rotation.
So I turn the question to you the readers. Is Babcock really threatening to take away Salei's starting gig, or is he playing his jedi mind tricks on yet another of his own players? Which defensemen would you want to see going into the second season? Does Salei get the nod for his defensive awareness and years of experience, or should Babcock roll the dice and go with the untested rookie who could prove to be a gamechanger? Does Ericsson have anything to fear for his job? What about Derek Meech? (who George Malik reminded us today will not be subject to waiver rules once the playoffs start). Sound off in the comments!