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Notes: Wings forward lines settling into groove

Alexey Marchenko skates with team; Andreas Athanasiou progressing on his own

by Dana Wakiji @Dwakiji / DetroitRedWings.com

DETROIT - Although the Red Wings have been dealing with some injuries of late, they seem to have found forward lines that are clicking.

Wings coach Jeff Blashill has captain Henrik Zetterberg centering Tomas Tatar and Anthony Mantha; Frans Nielsen is skating with Luke Glendening and Justin Abdelkader, Dylan Larkin is in the middle of Thomas Vanek and Gustav Nyquist; and Riley Sheahan is centering Steve Ott and Tomas Jurco.

"I really like our line setup right now," Blashill said. "I think we have four lines that can be dangerous. I thought Sheahan's line helped change the momentum in the first period, I thought they were excellent in the first period. Even though we gave up an early goal, they're the line that to me changed the momentum to help us push back. Zetterberg's for me been our best forward throughout. So now with Mantha and Tats, there's good chemistry there. The Nielsen line is a north-south line, they all want to play the same way so it breeds an identity. And the Larkin line with Nyquie and Vanek, those guys want to play a little more creatively so it seems to build well there as well. So I've been real happy with the lines."

Before Vanek was injured and then Darren Helm, Helm was centering Vanek and Nyquist.

Larkin played four games at center at the start of the season before moving to wing and is now back at center.

"Larks has been good at center," Blashill said. "It's a learning process, it's not perfect. I don't think there's a perfect player out there. It's a process for him. I think overall he's been able to maintain a real good 200-foot game and still produce chances offensively. If he can do that, then we're a better team the deeper we are at center."

Jurco made his season debut Tuesday. Although he's still working his way back from offseason back surgery and not playing a lot of minutes yet, he enjoyed his line.

"I really enjoy playing with Riley," Jurco said. "We played together in Grand Rapids. We played together my first year up here. Otter I think is just a good fit. He's a tough player; he can create turnovers. He's got really good skills. I think it was working really well for us."

As for Zetterberg, the goal was to take some of the pressure off of him starting the season by playing him at wing, especially coming off an offseason knee injury.

But once Zetterberg returned to his natural center role, things seemed to even out.

"For me, he's had an excellent start to the year," Blashill said. "He's just quietly, I think, been consistently really, really good. He played on the wing a couple games and then once we moved him back to center, those two games we gave up the most chances we have all year. Is that because of that? I don't know but I know he certainly gave us a calming, good defensive presence and he consistently, I think, has played against really, really good players on the other team and has at least been even in most of those games if not won the majority of his shifts. So he's been real good for us."

Zetterberg, 36, may not be the same player he was in his prime but he's still got a lot left in the tank. He's currently leading the team in points with 15.

"You won't come across a bigger warrior," Blashill said. "Same thing with (Niklas) Kronwall in terms of his ability to handle pain and ability to work through lots of stuff. He's a great example to our guys of what it takes to be successful and what a true pro is."

INJURY UPDATES: Defenseman Alexey Marchenko, who suffered a sprained AC joint in his right shoulder on Nov. 20 against Calgary, skated with the team in Wednesday's practice.

Calgary's Micheal Ferland hit Marchenko at 13:58 of the second period.

"The guy went to hit me so I tried to keep the puck out of the zone, just knock it out, and he just hit me," Marchenko said. "Nothing really bad, just game episode."

Marchenko said things are feeling better this week. He can shoot but is not allowed to take contact yet.

"I need to get back the strength of the shoulder," Marchenko said. "It's getting better, it's not there, but it's getting better. Once I get back strength and we'll see how I can feel the pressure of a hit and of contact."

Ten days before Marchenko was hurt, Andreas Athanasiou's left knee was injured on a hit by Vancouver's Nikita Tryamkin at 16:08 of the first period.

"I kind of pulled up and it was just the puck sliding through my leg there," Athanasiou said. "I think the D man stepped up and he's a big boy, right, so he's pretty big and heavy, so he kind of caught me behind my knee with his knee and it was just an unfortunate play. There was not much you could do."

Tryamkin is 6-foot-7, 265 pounds.

Athanasiou is not sure yet when he'll rejoin the team for practices.

"I haven't put an exact date on it yet," Athanasiou said. "Just taking it day by day and trying to improve something everyday with mobility. It feels strong and feels like it's getting back up to par. I've been skating with (strength and conditioning coach Mike Kadar). I think we've skated like five days in a row, that's felt good. So we're making progress."

Athanasiou's game is predicated on his elite speed so he has to make sure the knee is completely ready.

"I know my ability and my strength on my skates and how much force to put on and which edge to go on," Athanasiou said. "I'm taking it slowly making sure all my movements are good before I really start to push it."

Athanasiou said he didn't think this injury was taking longer than it is supposed to.

"I had the same injury last year so it's very similar. You have to take it slow," Athanasiou said. "I know I came back a little too early last year and kind of re-nagged it and had to sit out a little longer. This one we're taking all the right steps and we're doing all the right things and when I do come back it'll be 100 percent and ready to go."

Blashill said the progression for injured players goes from the training staff to Kadar and then to the coaching staff.

"I think the fact that Marchie took a step forward into participating in part of practice today is a good sign, and obviously that Double-A is starting to feel better on the ice and is starting to do more cuts is encouraging," Blashill said.

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