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Notes: Mantha back in; Larkin to remain at center

Captain Henrik Zetterberg continues Brendan Shanahan's legacy of helping firefighters

by Arthur J. Regner @ArthurJRegner / DetroitRedWings.com

DETROIT - Red Wings forward Anthony Mantha, a healthy scratch the last two games, skated on a line with Frans Nielsen and Darren Helm during Tuesday's practice at Joe Louis Arena, which is a clear sign he will return to the lineup Wednesday night against the Avalanche in Colorado.

"Not officially, but yeah, on the lines I'm back in the lineup," Mantha said. "I am getting ready to play tomorrow, that's the focus today."

Mantha admitted that at times during his two-game hiatus, he wondered why he was being singled out, but he tried to remain positive and learn from this experience.

"Obviously there are plenty of questions that go through your head," Mantha said. "There has to be an idea behind his decision and he talked to me about it and for me it comes down to playing better in general. I'll keep my head up. I'll come back stronger than I was the last few games.

"It's just being more prepared to play in every game, every shift, to compete at a higher level, that's the message they wanted to send me and that's what I was thinking about when I was sitting out, so I'll have to bring my 'A' game tomorrow."

Wings coach Jeff Blashill didn't come right out and say Mantha would be back in the lineup, but he did indicate that it was highly likely, telling reporters, "We'll make final lineup decisions tomorrow but I look at Anthony to be back."

When asked if he believed that Mantha received the message while he sat out, Blashill again reiterated that it wasn't about sending a message.

"Again, as I said the other day, for me it's more about changing habits than it is message. For sure he's a guy that wants to be better. I've got great belief in his character, great belief in what he's ultimately going to become," Blashill said. "My job is to help him reach his ceiling. Sometimes that's by playing guys lots, sometimes that's by giving confidence, sometimes that's by teaching on the ice, sometimes by video, sometimes by taking away ice time.

"I think he'll respond great. It doesn't mean he'll play great. I think his long-term approach is that he wants to be a very good hockey player, so I think in the end, he'll get as close as possible to reaching his ceiling."   

GREEN AS MENTOR: Defenseman Mike Green realizes the Wings have a Herculean task ahead of them to continue Detroit's run of 25 consecutive seasons of making the Stanley Cup playoffs.

Yet, regardless of the team's circumstances, Green knows it is essential for him and the Wings veterans to be good professional role models for the plethora of younger players on Detroit's roster.

"Yeah, it's definitely a strange feeling," Green said about being on the outside of the playoff picture. "But at this point it is what it is and we got to make sure we keep the culture, we keep the consistency, the work ethic and do the right things. At the end of the day, we're playing to win a hockey game.

"You got to set an example because, we do have a lot of young guys and guys that are looking up and obviously with Z (Henrik Zetterberg), Kronner (Niklas Kronwall) and these older guys that are great examples of leadership. It's definitely going to help those young guys down the road when they're in tough situations."

Despite being in his 12th NHL season, Green has marveled at the preparation and play of Zetterberg, who has put the team on his back.

"It's incredible really, the process he takes every day to come to the rink and do the things he does to prepare himself for a game and then what he does on the ice is obviously a world of his own," Green said. "It's been really interesting to sort of watch him and see his watch (as captain), his habits and try to emulate them."

During Tuesday practice, Green leveled Mantha as he was trying to make a move towards the net.

"It was either going to be me blowing back into the net or I try to stop him there," Green said. "I think I just caught him off-guard, it wasn't meant to hit him or anything. One of us was going down."

Mantha agreed with Green's assessment.

"I just tried cutting to the net, it was me or him and he just decided it was me," Mantha said.

Green, 31, was asked if age was a factor in his decision to take the 22 year-old Mantha out.

"Yeah, exactly," Green joked, "especially with me being older than him."

LARKIN HAPPY AT CENTER: Dylan Larkin has not had the year he and the Wings were expecting.

After a successful rookie campaign, Larkin has experienced the dreaded sophomore slump this season.

Larkin has seen time at both wing and center this year and has been juggled around all four of Detroit lines trying to give him a bit of a jump start.

However, there is a widely held view that Larkin is a center and he needs to play that position, even if it means going through some severe growing pains at the NHL level.

Recently, Larkin has been shifted back to center and is pleased that he is playing his natural position.

"Talking with Blash, it seems like I'll be there for the rest of the season. We talked and he's giving me time to figure it out and play," Larkin said. "I think, really even though the Boston game wasn't a good outcome, I started to feel more comfortable then and then these past two home games I've felt really good.

"I like playing with Double-A (Andreas Athanasiou) and having good speed on the wing and I feel there's some chemistry there. I'm really happy playing with him."

Blashill also is encouraged with the way Larkin has handled the move back to center, but was not ready to proclaim Larkin would remain there the rest of the year.  

"I know that he'll be at center come Wednesday night at Colorado. You know this is a day to day league and try not to get too far ahead of ourselves," Blashill said. "Now, I didn't do it with the intention of flip-flopping guys all over the place. The other thing it does, too, is gives us a chance to look at Helm on the wing for a while here and see where we can best utilize him.

"He (Helm) hadn't been at center for a long time, on the wing with Pavel (Datsyuk) there for a few years. Now let's see if that gives us a little more speed, utilize his speed and his anticipation ability from the wing position."

But if Larkin is going to reach his full potential, he will most likely do it playing center, something that Blashill believes eventually will be the case.

"All I know is centers are extremely valuable and if we can get him to become an elite center that's a huge thing for our organization. I know that for sure," Blashill said. "I also know that myself, (Devils coach) John Hynes, who coached him in the world championships, (Michigan coach) Red Berenson, most of us think his defensive instincts are better served at center.

"He's a guy who anticipates where the puck is going. Sometimes that can hurt you at wing but it can help you at center. In Chicago, he anticipated a rim to the bottom, cut it off and went the other way. Guys that are kind of puck-hounds sometimes do that. We'll see as we move along. His face-offs have been good. He can potentially give us a real strong skating centerman."

ZETTERBERG WITH A GREAT SAVE: Usually the word 'save' in hockey is associated with a goalie preventing a goal.

Tuesday after Wings practice, Zetterberg distributed more than 2,500 smoke detectors to local fire department representatives, which will be used to make the most important save of all - saving lives.

These smoke alarms will be installed in the homes of low-income residents throughout the state of Michigan by various fire departments.

Presented by Comerica Bank, the Red Wings held their 15th annual Smoke Detector Collection where Wing fans donated smoke detectors and money during an in-game collection on Jan. 14 and the Zetterberg Foundation kicked in more than $8,000 to purchase additional units.

Zetterberg is in his 11th year as the spokesman for the Smoke Detector Collection, which was originally established in 2001 by Brendan Shanahan to honor the memory of his father, Donal, who was a firefighter.     

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