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Notes: Mantha set to return as Wings host Senators

Detroit expects tough game out of Ottawa despite its recent struggles

by Dana Wakiji and Art Regner @Dwakiji and @ArthurJRegner /

DETROIT -- The Red Wings get one of their young stars back tonight when they host the Ottawa Senators.

Anthony Mantha, who has missed the last two games with a lower-body injury, is set to return after practicing hard the last couple of days.

"He'll feel his way into the game a little bit," Wings coach Jeff Blashill said. "I don't care who you are, when it's a couple games that you missed, you're not as battle-tested as if you'd just played the other night. So we won't throw him to the wolves right away, we'll ease him in and then hopefully he's going at a high level."

During the morning skate, Mantha skated on the fourth line with Martin Frk and David Booth. '

With Mantha's return, the Wings could have 11 forwards and seven defensemen with Andreas Athanasiou playing wing on Dylan Larkin's line and centering the fourth line.

Mantha and Tyler Bertuzzi both took turns as the net-front presence on the second power-play unit Wednesday morning.

The power play has dropped a bit in the rankings to 12th in the league at 20.2 percent.

"My positioning needs to be better," Mantha said of playing net-front. "I need to make the goalie look on one side of the other when that pass - for example, from (Mike) Green to Frky comes down - he (the goalie) needs to be a half-second or a second late on that pass, so once that shots is taken he's already going to be late, so it's hard to stop."

Mantha said he does look at other players who fill that role around the league.

"I talked to Blashill a little bit about that," Mantha said. "Even JVR (James van Riemsdyk) from Toronto is one of the best net-front players around. Blash showed me a couple of clips of things he does. I'm trying to learn and trying to get better."

Mantha has had some success against the Senators, with two goals in three career games against them, including an overtime winner.

Mantha leads the Wings in goals with 13.

OTHER SPECIAL TEAM: Blashill has said the Wings need to have elite special teams in order to have success this season.

For the most part, both the power play and penalty kill have been in the top 10.

The penalty kill has dipped a little, just as the power play has done, falling into a tie for 16th in the league at 81 percent.

"We always want to get better, we want to eliminate every single scoring 'A' chances they get but it's hard to be perfect out there when they're one guy more than you are," defenseman Jonathan Ericsson said. "But we're always striving to get better."

It is a little more challenging with Luke Glendening out with a hand injury for at least a month.

Glendening is the team leader in face-off percentage at 59.36 and was often counted on to take those important draws in the defensive zone.

However, one of the best parts of the penalty kill this season is that it's been a threat to score every game.

"I haven't been used to that, like my first eight years, I think we had barely maybe a couple of shorthanded goals every year," Ericsson said. "So it's nice to see that we can get some chances."

The Wings have seven shorthanded goals, tied with the Florida Panthers and Edmonton Oilers for the league lead.

OTTAWA WILL BRING BEST GAME: This season has not been pretty for the Senators, especially for a team that came within a goal of playing for the Stanley Cup in 2017.

It has been a horror show on ice for the Senators.

They are 4-14-3 in their last 21 games and during the month of December when they posted a 4-8-2 mark they were shut out in five of their eight losses.

Throw into the mix an owner threatening to relocate the team, their best player, Erik Karlsson, destined to become an unrestricted free agent in 2019 and their best forward Mark Stone calling out the team after its last loss, a 5-0 pasting by the Boston Bruins.

You can see why the Senators are the NHL's version of 'Team Chaos.'

Despite all their trials and tribulations, the Wings expect the Senators' best game of the season Wednesday night when the teams square off at Little Caesars Arena.

"To be honest with you. I think they have played good hockey, they haven't won. That's the league," Blashill said after Tuesday's practice at the BELFOR Training Center. "Last year their goal differentiation when they made the playoffs was negative. They won tons of close games.

"This year they've been in those same close games. They're still a really good hockey team, they just haven't won a lot of the ones they did a year ago. I think they had great goaltending a year ago, that's how close the league is. I've said it over and over and over again, it's a great example.

"They're going to come in here (Wednesday) and they're going to give us a great effort. We got to give a great effort to give ourselves the best chance to win."

Detroit's alternate captain Justin Abdelkader says the Senators are a true example of how razor thin the difference between winning and losing is in today's NHL.

"That's the league, though. That's the parity," he said. "Obviously, speaking of last year, they were one goal away from going to the Stanley Cup final. They're a team that - hey listen, they're not going to blow teams out, but they keep it close.

"They like to keep it low scoring and play off good goaltending, which they've had in the past. I think they make it hard to play against. They really trap the neutral zone. They made a move there, moving (Kyle) Turris for (Matt) Duchene to try to shake things up but hey, that's the league we're living in. A team can make it so far one year and be out of the playoffs the next."

CHATTY KARLSSON: Karlsson is not only an admired player, he's also quite well-liked around the league.

Ericsson said that's because Karlsson is almost always talking to someone about something.

"He always has something to say on the ice," Ericsson said. "Obviously he's very professional when the puck is dropped. He likes to comment on plays or comment on other things."

Despite Karlsson's minus-20 in 32 games, he still has three goals and 22 assists.

"I'm just glad I'm not a forward," Ericsson said. "But on the other hand, he's coming down to us quite a bit, too, but we can always blame the forwards for what happens. Obviously you got to be aware of him, don't give him any ice time and you got to basically finish your check on him every time. Because otherwise he's going to beat you up the ice and he's always a threat up there. He's good at recognizing when he can go and not go. A lot of times when they get the puck, he's almost the first guy on the rush. So obviously he's one unique hockey player. It's fun to watch."

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