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Notes: Tough decisions for blue liners

by Bill Roose / Detroit Red Wings
Alexey Marchenko has been one of the young defensemen who have impressed coach Mike Babcock during training camp and preseason. (Photo by Dave Reginek/Detroit Red Wings)

DETROIT – Coach Mike Babcock will have some tough decisions regarding the Red Wings’ roster soon, particularly along the blue line where a few battles are heating up.

“We’re going to do everything we can to upgrade our D,” Babcock said. “So is that the guys who’ve been here in the past, is that someone new? I don’t know the answer for sure but I got two more opportunities to watch before we got to make decisions.”

The Red Wings wrap up the preseason this weekend with games in Toronto and Boston, Friday and Saturday. Then comes the hard part: chiseling the 23-man roster that each club is required to submit to the NHL offices by 5 p.m. EST Tuesday.

The Red Wings open the 2014-15 season against the Boston Bruins at Joe Louis Arena next Thursday.

In the past, Babcock has famously said roster ties go to the veterans, but this fall he’s less interested in favoritism and more about protecting the puck. He’s not afraid to rock the apple cart, so if that means a younger player wins a roster spot, so be it, as long as it strengthens the entire team.

It’s expected the Wings will carry seven defensemen into the regular season. Niklas Kronwall, Jonathan Ericsson, Danny DeKeyser and Brendan Smith are roster locks

Last month, Babcock said veterans like Jakub Kindl, Brian Lashoff and Kyle Quincey weren’t in jeopardy of losing spots in the Red Wings’ lineup. But following Wednesday’s 2-0 preseason loss to Pittsburgh, Babcock said, “We have to figure out our backend.”

“I like when we move the puck. I like when the puck gets going in a hurry. I like guys who can make good decisions and move it,” Babcock said Thursday. “We got a group here that’s been here in the past. One of the things you don’t want to get too carried away with is – it is exhibition – and sometimes the engagement isn’t what it should be. Some guys are battling for jobs. That’s just the facts, so we’ll just watch it happen.”

Kindl isn’t oblivious to what’s at stake. He feels the heat from the young prospects, like Alexey Marchenko, Xavier Ouellet and Ryan Sproul, who are pushing to make this team. Even Nick Jensen, who is participating in his first NHL training camp, has had an extremely impressive month.

“It’s a competition, right?” Kindl asked. “Obviously, you have the young guys coming up here. We all know they’re good players. We all know that we have great depth. It’s a competition. Of course they want to take our jobs. We want to keep our jobs. It’s very simple.”

Jensen has the only goal scored by a Wings’ defenseman this preseason. His eight shots on goal are tied with Ouellet, and trails just Tomas Jurco (11) and Tomas Tatar (9) for the team lead.

Babcock admits the advanced development of the young defensemen makes his decision even tougher.

“Guys that I think have played real well are Marchenko, Ouellet and Jensen,” Babcock said. “Jensen, to tell you the truth coming into camp, I knew who he was, I’d seen him play and all that, but I didn’t know. He’s been very good too.”

The Red Wings would like to add a right-handed shot to the power play. Marchenko, Sproul and Jensen are the only right-handed D-men in the system. But have any of them done enough from the point to influence the coach’s mind?

“I don’t know if any of them are that, to be honest with you,” Babcock said. “I thought Jensen was OK last night, I think Ouellet has been good at times. I’m just looking for the guy who can play 5-on-5 and move the puck, get the puck going.”

Tomas Tatar needed help getting to his skates after he collided with linesman Derek Amell during the third period of Wednesday's game at Joe Louis Arena. (Photo by Dave Reginek/Detroit Red Wings)

FLYIN’ KNEE: Tomas Tatar did not practice Thursday with the team at The Joe. It was just precautionary after the Red Wings’ forward was knocked out of Wednesday’s preseason game when his head collided with the left knee of linesman Derek Amell.

The incident occurred late in the game as Tatar skated along the half wall. He was pushed into the boards by Penguins forward Blake Comeau where Amell was positioned at the blueline. With nowhere to go, the linesman tried to jump out of the way.

“I thought it was kind of funny because when I got pushed I saw how (Amell) was jumping and I just saw the knee right in my face,” Tatar said Thursday. “I think it was like a UFC flying knee.”

It wasn’t funny at first as Tatar had to be helped off the ice by Niklas Kronwall and team trainer Piet VanZant. Tatar passed a concussion test, but did not return to the game.

Tatar will not play Friday in Toronto, but Babcock wasn’t sure if he’ll be available for Saturday’s preseason finale in Boston.

“He’s injured right now,” Babcock said. “I don’t think it’s very bad. Protocol with concussions is such that he’s not available to us at this point. I talked to Tats this morning he’s feeling fine but I don’t know at this point.”

Another casualty in Wednesday’s game was linesman Steve Barton, who received five stitches to close a cut to his right cheek. In the third period, the 43-year-old Ottawa native was struck in the face by an errant high stick from Wings forward Tomas Jurco.

INJURY UPDATE: Forward Darren Helm and center Pavel Datsyuk skated Thursday.

Datsyuk (right shoulder) is expected to miss the first six or so games of the regular season. Helm won’t play Friday, but should be ready for the season opener.

Helm, who hasn’t played since he suffered a broken nose in the preseason opener in Pittsburgh last week, has remained out with a sore groin.

“He had some back issues that were putting pressure on his groin,” Babcock said. “I think they got it cleaned up.”

Helm has sat out the last five exhibition games and missed valuable practice time, which concerns him with just a week before the start of the season.

“This is a great opportunity for everyone to get back into shape and to get back into game mode,” he said. “I’m watching a lot of video on what everyone is going through right now and I’m missing that right now. It will probably take a little bit of a toll for the first game or two but hopefully I get an exhibition game (this weekend) to get me one step closer to where I need to be.”

ROSTER CUTS: Thursday afternoon the Red Wings reassigned six players to GAHL Grand Rapids, returned one to juniors and released three others.

Defensemen Mattias Backman, Ryan Sproul, Richard Nedomlel, center Andreas Athanasiou, and forwards Martin Frk and Colin Campbell were sent to Grand Rapids.

Defenseman Joe Hicketts, who last month signed a three-year entry-level contract with the Wings, was returned to Victoria of the Western Hockey League. Forwards Mark Zengerle, Alden Hirschfeld and Shane Berschbach were released.

Currently, the Red Wings’ roster stands at 39 players with 24 forwards, 11 defensemen and four goalies.

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