Why the Red Wings need Jonathan Ericsson to make “the leap” this year

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When Jonathan Ericsson arrived on the scene in Detroit during their run to the Stanley Cup finals in 2009, he showed up as a 6’4″ 220 pound revelation. He jumped into the starting lineup scoring four goals and four assists in the playoffs from the blue line and nearly helping lead the Red Wings to the Stanley Cup against Pittsburgh.

Since then, Ericsson’s last two seasons have seen him kind of find his way through action and not using his size nor his skills to their optimum levels. Two seasons ago, Ericsson dealt with injuries and played in 62 games and put up a stunningly low plus/minus for a Red Wings player at -15. Last season in particular was a rough one for Ericsson as his play had him permanently fixed on the third pairing and sometimes getting swapped out of the lineup as a healthy scratch.

Heading into this season with Brian Rafalski suddenly retiring, Ericsson has the chance to seize the day and become the blue line force many thought he would be. After signing a big free agent deal this summer to stay in Detroit (three years, $9.75 million), the pressure is on for Ericsson and Chuck Pleiness of the Macomb Daily Newspaper finds that Ericsson knows it’s time to show that he’s worth the faith the Wings have put into him.

“It’s up to myself now,” Ericsson said. “They’re going to have higher expectations of me. I’m looking forward to it. It’s a little more pressure but that’s always good. That always helps players, most of the players, anyway. You always want to put more pressure on yourself. It’s going to be fun, too.”

While the Wings’ top three defensemen are easy to pick out in Nicklas Lidstrom, Niklas Kronwall, and Brad Stuart landing the job as the #4 guy is between Ericsson, Ian White, Mike Commodore. For Ericsson, the opportunity to capitalize on the situation is right there for the taking. While Ericsson had his struggles at times the last two years, perhaps that shot of faith (and big bucks) is what he needed to get faith in his own game.  The Wings are banking on it happening or else.

With Lidstrom eventually hanging it up sooner than later, the Wings will need someone to step up and become that big game kind of player on defense. Replacing a guy like Lidstrom is impossible, but if Ericsson and Kronwall can reach the heights they’ve shown they’re capable of with their play, replacing that production by committee would be a bonus for Detroit. There are high hopes for youngsters Jakub Kindl and Brendan Smith to also someday join that defensive corps, but they haven’t had much opportunity in the NHL to show what they can do. Smith is just two years removed from the University of Wisconsin and has yet to play in the NHL.

For Ericsson, there’s no time like the present to make his presence felt. The Wings have ponied up the cash to keep him in town, now he has to show that he’s worth the dedication and hype, otherwise they’ll be paying $3.25 million a year to a third-pair defenseman for the next three years. Those kinds of mistakes in the salary cap world can’t happen, but as Ericsson says, it’s up to him to make it work now.

The Buzzer: Kempe, Schwartz record hat tricks; Leafs honor Gord Downie

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Players of the night: Jaden Schwartz, St. Louis Blues / Adrian Kempe, Los Angeles Kings

The Blues forward tallied his third career hat trick during a 5-2 victory over the Chicago Blackhawks. Schwartz scored the game’s first two goals before completing his hat trick with a late empty-net goal to stave off a Chicago comeback.

Wednesday’s feat for Schwartz came three years to the day of his first career three-goal game.

Kempe, meanwhile, tallied his first NHL hat trick and finished with four points during LA’s 5-1 rout of the Montreal Canadiens. Two of his three goals were assisted by Mike Cammalleri, who also finished the night with four points.

Highlight of the night:

Eddie Olczyk returned to the NBC broadcast booth as he continues his battle against colon cancer. Olczyk, along with Doc Emrick, called the Blues-Blackhawks game from Scottrade Center Wednesday night.

MISC:

Auston Matthews recorded the 20th multi-point game of his career. He now has six goals and 10 points on the season.

Patrick Marleau became the 18th NHL player to reach the 1,500-game mark.

Jake Allen kept his shutout bid alive with this great stick save on Patrick Kane late:

-The Kings are off their best start in franchise history at 5-0-1. They’ve allowed only 10 goals against through six games.

Jeff Carter left the game in the first period and did not return after tangling with Jeff Petry. Afterward, Kings head coach John Stevens said the forward will miss some time.

-Finally, The Tragically Hip frontman Gord Downie passed away from cancer at age 53 on Wednesday. The Maple Leafs paid tribute before their game against the Red Wings.

Factoid of the night:

Scores:

Maple Leafs 6, Red Wings 3

Blues 5, Blackhawks 2

Kings 5, Canadiens 1

Cammalleri, Kempe power Kings over Canadiens

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Adrian Kempe recorded his first career NHL hat trick and Mike Cammalleri added two goals as the Los Angeles Kings beat the Montreal Canadiens 5-1.

After Paul Byron opened the scoring for Montreal midway through the first period, the Kings responded with five unanswered goals to hand the Habs their sixth straight defeat.

Cammalleri, who inked a one-year deal over the summer to return to the Kings, had a hand in four of LA’s five goals. He started the scoring for the Kings in the first period by celebrating the Dodgers’ playoff run with his own special kind of baseball swing.

Kempe, who finished with four points as well, scored his three goals over a span of 10:50 in the third period to help the Kings to their best start in franchise history (5-0-1).

LA remains the only NHL team yet to lose in regulation this season.

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Jaden Schwartz’s hat trick leads Blues over Blackhawks

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Jaden Schwartz‘s third career hat trick helped power the St. Louis Blues over the Chicago Blackhawks 5-2 in a Central Division clash Wednesday night at Scottrade Center.

Schwartz’s eventful evening began with a goal 4:46 into the first period. It was nearly ended minutes later after a scary crash into the end boards following a scoring chance.

After missing some time, Schwartz returned in the second period and doubled the Blues’ lead with his fourth of a season, thanks to a great outlet pass from Allen.

As the Blues built up a 4-0 lead, the Blackhawks spoiled Allen’s shutout bid with a pair of late power play goals 80 seconds apart. The furious rally was stopped, however, and Schwartz capped off his hat trick with an empty netter to put the game out of reach.

St. Louis dominated the first two periods, outshooting the Blackhawks 26-8 as they built up their 2-0 lead. The Blackhawks’ power play failed them early in the game, missing out on five chances to capitalize with the extra man through 40 minutes.

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

WATCH LIVE: Canadiens at Kings

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The Montreal Canadiens play their second game of a three-game west coast trip Wednesday night against the Los Angeles Kings.

It hasn’t been the best start for the Habs, who sit tied for last in the Eastern Conference with a 1-4-1 record. They’re winless since an opening night win over the Buffalo Sabres. On the other side of things, the Kings are the only NHL team that has yet to lose in regulation. Their 4-0-1 start puts them a point behind the Vegas Golden Knights, and their game in-hand gives them the opportunity to leap into first place in the Pacific Division with a victory.

You can check out tonight’s game on NBCSN (10:30 p.m. ET) or online via the live stream.

CLICK HERE TO WATCH LIVE

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

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