DETROIT – It was hard to pinpoint someone in a Red Wings’ sweater who played well in a lopsided loss at Pittsburgh earlier in the week.
The one someone who did turn heads was defenseman Alexy Marchenko.
Though Marchenko was a minus-2 in a 4-1 loss to the Penguins, he logged a career-best 17:55 of ice time with a game-high two takeaways .
“He was one of our better players in that game for sure,” Wings defenseman Niklas Kronwall said. “I think he’s been really good every game. I think he’s been doing great. We’re happy to have him.”
The Red Wings recalled Marchenko two weeks ago so they could evaluate some of their young defensemen against NHL clubs prior to next month’s trade deadline. Xavier Ouellet also had an audition, playing in 21 games during three separate assignments with the Wings this season.
The 6-foot-2 Russian rookie comes from AHL Grand Rapids where he has continued to develop his skills as a quality puck-moving defenseman. It certainly doesn’t hurt that he’s a right-handed shot, the only one among the current group of Wings’ D-men.
“I think Marchy’s a good player, more than anything with the righty lefty thing,” said Brendan Smith, who has been partnered with Marchenko since he was recalled Jan. 31. “He does make some things more efficient or more effective. There’s pros and cons for it everything. It’s been working. Marchy’s not afraid. He makes good plays. He’ll take the hit. He’s got a good sense of the game. He’s strong. He’s tough. These are qualities you need. Marchy is a good stay at home defenseman, makes a good first pass, that’s what he’s been doing and that’s helped my game a little bit.
In the past, coach Mike Babcock used the term moxie to describe rookie goalie Petr Mrazek’s makeup and character during his long stint in the recent absence of Jimmy Howard and Jonas Gustavsson.
The Wings’ coach likes Marchenko’s level of confidence that he’s shown in the past four games since being recalled from the Griffins.
“I thought he was maybe our best D-man in the last game. In the second half of last game he really executed with the puck and was getting his confidence,” Babcock said. “We played him with Kronwall lots in the toughest matchups just so we could watch him because you don’t really know him yourself until you coach him and we thought he was excellent. He’s got himself in a situation playing with Smith where we should have a real good third pair. There shouldn’t be a whole lot of falloff. Ideally we’re going to watch that, we’re going to see him play over a while here and figure it out.”
Marchenko, who made his NHL debut with the Red Wings last season, has been a sponge, said Smith, who believes it won’t be long before the Russian is a regular in Detroit’s lineup.
“He’s always asking me questions,” Smith said. “A lot of people say Russian is a tough language, it’s a little bit of a problem, but he gets it. I don’t have to explain is twice. It’s been very good. He wants to know. He’s competitive and wants to get better. I think that’s helped our tandem. I just like the little things he does. He’s a hell of a passer, which is good. There are a few things he’ll get better at. Everybody has to get better. I think I can keep helping him, but the system is the biggest thing. It’s a new system and he’s getting better at it.”