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Notes: Witkowski regrets returning to the ice, 10-game suspension

Wings welcome Sabres team missing several blue liners

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

DETROIT - Luke Witkowski is paying dearly for his actions late in the third period of Wednesday's game against the Calgary Flames.

After fighting Brett Kulak and going to the penalty box, the officials sent Witkowski to the room with a game misconduct.

As Witkowski headed off the ice, Matt Tkachuk speared him in the back of the legs, prompting Witkowski to return to the ice.

On Thursday, the league suspended Witkowski for 10 games because of rule 70.6, part of which says, "Any player who has been ordered to the dressing room by the officials and returns to his bench or to the ice surface for any reason before the appropriate time shall be assessed a game misconduct and shall be suspended automatically without pay for the next ten (10) regular League and/or Play-off games."

Wings coach Jeff Blashill said he read the rule and understands why senior vice president of player safety George Parros didn't have a choice.

"It's unfortunate. I don't think the punishment fits the crime," Blashill said. "I don't think the way the rule's written, it gives the league office, George or in that department, really any ability to apply judgment because it's so black and white. It's too bad. I think if he had the ability to apply judgment, I think common sense says that the punishment doesn't fit the crime. Witter goes back on the ice because he gets hit on the leg by one of their players, that's what initiated it, otherwise it's over. Once he goes back on, he could have made it way worse and he chose not to.

"I think you're going to go through the season and you're going to see lots of things done in the year that get way less, way less games. I think there's going to be guys who elbow people in the head, guys who use their stick as a weapon and they're going to get less games yet their intent to injure is way greater. Witter had a willing combatant in a fight, they fought, he didn't throw any punches once he was down. Then he went to the box, they brought him across and unfortunately, I hope there's punishment for starting the thing, which is what their player did was start it. But again, it's unfortunate but the rule is so black and white that I don't think that they were allowed an opportunity to apply judgment. It reminds me we started all these drug laws in the '80s and the punishment doesn't fit the crime, we all see it. That's the case and the same thing here."

Witkowski will continue to practice with the Wings during his suspension.

"It's unfortunate," Witkowski said. "Honestly, I didn't know that was a rule. I obviously, I know now. I knew it was a rule you couldn't jump the boards. It's kind of a gray area with still being on the bench and the door being open. But lesson learned, I guess. Move on from here."

Witkowski said had he known the rule, he would have made a different decision.

"I would say so. I don't want to sit out 10 games," Witkowski said. "Nobody wants to sit out 10 games."

He was provoked by the spear, which Witkowski attempted to explain to the league.

"They got all the angles on the video and (have) obviously seen it," Witkowski said. "I talked to Parros, I talked to Kenny (Holland), I talked to the PA (players' association). That little tap on the legs doesn't warrant me to go back on the ice."

Despite the suspension and automatic fine, Witkowski has retained his sense of humor.

"I was actually out deer hunting (when I found out)," Witkowski said. "It was tough but like I said it already happened, I'm not going to sit here and sulk about it."

WItkowski said he managed to shoot a buck while hunting.

"Hey, with that fine, I need to put food on the table," he said.

LASHOFF WITH TEAM: With Witkowski's suspension and an upper-body injury to Trevor Daley in Wednesday's game, the Wings recalled defenseman Brian Lashoff from the Griffins.

"I obviously have a good relationship with all the guys in here, that's why I've stayed in the organization for a while," Lashoff said. "But it's obviously fun to be back and help contribute whenever I can."

Daley skated Friday morning. Lashoff indicated he was also playing, so the Wings could go with 11 forwards and seven defensemen.

In general, the Wings do not like to bring up a young player who might not play or who will play limited minutes for just a game, which means defensemen like Joe Hicketts and Filip Hronek weren't really considered in this situation.

"First of all I expect Danny (DeKeyser) to be back on Sunday," Blashill said. "I think with young players, whether it be Hicketts or somebody else, one, before you bring them up you'd like to know they're playing for sure. Two, we try not to have a roller coaster with our young players, where they're up and they're down and they're up and they're down. You'd like a guy like that … he needs a chance at some point but you'd like him to get 10, 15, 20 games when that chance happens."

The other factor is the Wings are looking for a player to be dominant at the lower level before bringing them up.

Hronek leads Griffins defensemen with two goals and five assists in 12 games while Hicketts has one goal and four assists.

"Certainly the only player that's young and had been a contributor here on a regular basis to that D down there is Hicketts," Blashill said. "So that would be the only one I would see. And he's not at the level to where (Anthony) Mantha and AA (Andreas Athanasiou) and those guys were and (Dylan) Larkin came right here and did a hell of a job right away. Let's be elite down there and get your opportunity and when the opportunity opens here and then you come through.

"You'd way rather have guys learn lessons in the American League than in the NHL. The lessons they learned last year also were a contributing factor to not making the playoffs. Good for us that AA and Mantha had to learn lots of lessons down there so that it's a year process instead of a multi-year process in the NHL where sometimes it just crushes your confidence."

ABDELKADER WILL NOT ALTER GAME: Justin Abdelkader is one of the few physical forces on the Wings, a role he fully embraces.

However, with a fractured cheekbone, don't expect the Wings' alternate captain to be dropping the gloves anytime soon. He is wearing a protective visor, which makes him look like a cross between a hockey player, a football player and a race car driver.

"It's different, a little harder to breathe because almost my whole face is covered," Abdelkader said. "It's just easier for me to wear a visor than the cage. The cage is so much different then what I've used the last 10 years. It's not great, but you make it work."

His fractured cheekbone will take six to eight weeks to heal and though he won't be fighting, he will not change the way he plays.

"I will continue to play the same way," he said. "I'll go to the net, finish my checks and just play hard. It's not going to change anything, it's just what I'm wearing to protect it.

"If it did happen and I got into a fight, I'm risking long-term injury, which I know I have to be smart. I would have stayed away from any kind of fighting. If I take one to the face, I would risk putting myself out for a couple of months off the ice.

"You have to be smart. It's a frustrating injury but at the same time I'm lucky I can play with it, so I'll go out and continue the way that I'll play."

LARKIN WANTS MORE GOALS: Dylan Larkin has scored 43 goals as a Wing.

Perhaps his flashiest was Wednesday's shorthanded tally when he picked the top corner of the far side of the net after a nifty deke on the Flames defenseman.

"I saw the goalie, it all happened so fast, that far side top corner was open," Larkin said. "I don't score many highlight goals, but it felt good. It was nice.

"It wasn't too crazy, I didn't try and go end-to-end or through a guy. I read what was there and I saw the defenseman like he was going to leave his feet. I know he did it on Double A's (Andreas Athanasiou) goal so I was watching him and I wanted to shoot that one."

Larkin has had a productive season with 18 points in 19 games, but he only has three goals, a number he wants to increase and he knows it's up to him to make it happen.

"It's a mindset, as a player you want to make plays and if there's plays there to be made; if I wanted to score more and I do want to score more, I have to make more plays," Larkin said. "When you make more plays, you shoot more and create chances for yourself. The way my season is going I don't think it's a three-goal (season). It is what it is, the assists have been nice.

"For me as a center, I'm just trying to create all the time."

After his goal on Wednesday, Larkin received a few texts from some of his buddies on other NHL teams, including one from Buffalo's Jack Eichel, whose Sabres play the Wings on Friday.

He and Eichel were teammates during their days at the United States National Team Development Program in Ann Arbor.

"Eichs (Eichel) and I have a little spirited competition, a healthy competition, but you do root for them (his buddies) but not on night's when you're playing them," Larkin said. "You're always watching checking to see if they score or won and it's just good to see him during the year."

SABRES HURTING: The Sabres are having as much trouble keeping their defenseman healthy as the Vegas Golden Knights are with their goaltenders.

Zach Bogosian, Rasmus Ristolainen and Matt Tennyson (Western Michigan) were already on injured reserve and now Taylor Fedun is out six to eight weeks with a lower-body injury.

The Sabres called up Casey Nelson to give them a healthy body.

But despite the injuries, Blashill doesn't expect an easy game.

"We've watched lots of their games. I think you could easily have won those games, some of the ones that they've lost," Blashill said. "That's just the league. What kind of challenges? Jack Eichel, (Evander) Kane, (Ryan) O'Reilly, you go down the list, they've got some real, real high, high-end players. O'Reilly's a hell of a player. They've had goalies that have been really good in this league. So it'll be a great challenge like it is every single night in this league. I don't see huge differences between most of the teams."

Interestingly, Kyle Criscuolo, who played for the AHL's Grand Rapids Griffins last season could make his NHL debut for the Sabres tonight.

Criscuolo had 17 goals and 24 assists with the Griffins and was part of their Calder Cup championship.

MANTHA HONORED: Before tonight's game against the Sabres, the Detroit Sports Media (formerly the Detroit Sports Broadcasters Association) will honor Anthony Mantha with the Rookie of the Year Award.

In 60 games last season, Mantha had 17 goals, 19 assists and was plus-10.

This season, Mantha is off to a great start, with a team-leading 10 goals among 19 points in 19 games.

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