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Notes: Larkin faces good friend Werenski for 1st time

Both Andreas Athanasiou and Alexey Marchenko return to the lineup against the Blue Jackets

by Dana Wakiji @Dwakiji / DetroitRedWings.com

DETROIT - Dylan Larkin knows exactly the type of player the Red Wings will face in Columbus Blue Jackets defenseman Zach Werenski.

Werenski, 19, is a native of Grosse Pointe, Mich., who had always called Larkin a teammate until tonight.

"We had a lot of games played together, first time ever playing against him," Larkin said after Friday's morning skate. "It goes way back to when we started playing together when we were about 10 years old. He was a year younger than I was, played for Belle Tire and I think we played together until we were 18 years old and in college. We were roommates, we're great friends. I got a chance to see him yesterday. I'm excited to see him out here."

Werenski has had an immediate impact on the Blue Jackets, quarterbacking their power play to the top spot in the league.

Werenski has six goals and 11 assists in 24 games. Three goals and five assists have come on the power play.

That success does not surprise Larkin.

"I've seen it as kids, at Michigan when he was the youngest player in college hockey and ran our power play at Michigan and we had one of the best power plays," Larkin said. "Then last year at world junior, I knew he was ready then. The way he plays, he's always got his head up, you'll never catch him with a big hit or anything. He knows what's coming. He's got great mobility to get out of plays. He can make a play when he has the puck."

In the Columbus' notes, it says Werenski "began playing hockey at the age of 3 and grew up idolizing Nicklas Lidstrom," the Wings' longtime former captain.

Larkin says he's seen the impact that watching Lidstrom had on Werenski.

"I just think it's his poise," Larkin said. "You see a rookie defenseman like that that can make plays like he does and skate the way he does. One thing I know from playing with him is his stick, it's a lethal weapon the way he can just strip guys and take the puck off guys. Growing up watching Nick Lidstrom, I think he's got potential to have a stick like that where he can break up plays just by using his stick."

Werenski was rookie of the month for November after recording three goals and seven assists in 14 games, edging out players like Winnipeg forward Patrik Laine and Pittsburgh goaltender Matt Murray.

"I like everything about his game," Wings coach Jeff Blashill said. "I had a chance to watch the series between the Lake Erie Monsters and the Grand Rapids Griffins last year and it was similar to Larkin when he came in and played with us in the third round of the American League playoffs. That's great hockey at that point. A lot of those guys are going to play in the NHL. When Larkin played for us it was immediate impact. It wasn't potential. It was reality. The impact of his game was big, and the same thing with Werenski last year when I watched. His impact was big. So it is no surprise to me at all that he's come in and had an immediate impact here. He does a lot of things well. He's rangy, he's good with the puck. He obviously has lots of confidence and it's guys with confidence who can step in and have this kind of impact."

Larkin said he's looking forward to matching up against his old teammate.

"It'll be a lot of fun," Larkin said. "I don't think it'll be weird at all. I've gotten a chance to watch him play a few times and he looks great out there. I'm excited to see all his family and friends. It's going to be Zach Werenski Night at the Joe, I think."

LETHAL POWER PLAY: The Wings have worked to get their penalty kill up to 10th in the league at 84.1 percent but that doesn't mean they want to test themselves against the Blue Jackets.

The Blue Jackets are No. 1 on the power play, clicking at 24.6 percent.

"We got to stay disciplined, we got to move our feet and make sure we're checking them and taking care of the puck and not giving it away," Larkin said. "When we have the puck, we're not taking penalties."

Blashill said the Wings want to avoid needless penalties against every team.

"You'll certainly be fine with your physical penalties, you'll be fine with penalties that maybe save big-time chances against but you don't want to end up in those situations," Blashill said. "I think we've done a pretty good job of not taking penalties. I think we've been pretty disciplined. I think we've kept our stick on the ice, we haven't taken very many stick checks, whether it's holds, hooks, things like that and we got to do that again tonight."

REINFORCEMENTS: Speedy forward Andreas Athanasiou returns after missing 12 games with a left knee injury and defenseman Alexey Marchenko comes back after missing eight games with a shoulder injury.

"Both have missed significant time so you can't have your expectations too high," Blashill said. "I think your expectations have to stay real measured that it's going to take some time. Sometimes that first game back there's lots of energy and they actually play better the first game than maybe the second and third. We just have to ease them into situations. I have to make judgments as the game goes along on how well they're playing and get them more ice time when needed and less if needed."

Blashill said there were some question marks coming out of the Winnipeg game so final lineup decisions would be made after warmups, including defense pairs.

Athanasiou is expected to start on a line with Steve Ott and Tomas Jurco.

SPROUL WAITING: After finishing minus-3 in the game against Pittsburgh last Saturday, defenseman Ryan Sproul has been a healthy scratch and is expected to be again tonight against Columbus.

Blashill said Sproul will have to wait for his next chance. "When he gets the opportunity, Ryan Sproul needs to be assertive," Blashill said. "When Ryan Sproul is assertive, both offensively and defensively, he's an excellent player. When he loses that assertiveness, which has happened that last couple of times over a number of games. The games he was in, he lost some of that assertiveness and then he's not as good of a hockey player. You've got to make sure when you play, you play smart but you can't play afraid to make a mistake. You've got to go attack the game."

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