DETROIT – When Alexey Marchenko is on his game, there are two things that the 6-foot-3 defenseman brings to the table.
“He’s a really, really good defender, very, very smart defensively,” Red Wings coach Jeff Blashill said. “It starts with tight gaps. I think against a line like (Tyler) Johnson you have to have tight gaps otherwise you’re in trouble if you give them space. And he’s also got a real good ability to pass the puck under pressure.”
The Wings will need Marchenko’s steadiness again tonight in a pivotal Game 4 if they hope to even their Eastern Conference quarterfinals series against the Tampa Bay Lightning.
“He can handle forecheck pressure and make real good plays,” Blashill added. “What he’s had to do is learn to manage that part of his game and not make any hope plays, only make the plays that he sees. Overall I’d say his ability to defend and his ability to break the puck out (are key).”
The Wings are fortunate that Marchenko can continue in the series after he sustained a pretty big hit into the boards midway through Sunday’s win at Joe Louis Arena. He was injured while attempting to retrieve a loose puck from behind the Wings’ net. It was there that he was smashed into the glass by Lightning center Vladislav Namestnikov at 10:04 of the second period.
Marchenko suffered a large gash to his forehead, above his left eye, requiring 12 stitches to close. Initially, it didn’t look good for Marchenko, who appeared to have some difficulty reaching the Wings’ bench.
“It was bloody like on my visor,” he said. “I kind of like need to figure out what to do because I couldn’t see with all the blood.”
Once repaired, the 24-year-old Russian returned to the game during the third period and finished the game with Danny DeKeyser as his defensive partner.
Marchenko’s poise, especially when he has the puck on the end of his stick, has been invaluable against the Lightning’s opportunistic forecheckers.
“He’s solid back there,” DeKeyser said. “He doesn’t make any mistakes, he’s good defensively, so he’s pretty easy to play with.”
The only real change for DeKeyser – who has played much of the season with Kyle Quincey – is that Marchenko is a right-handed shot.
“You just got to put it (the pass) on the other side of his body, as opposed to a lefty,” DeKeyser said. “That’s the biggest thing.”
In three games, Marchenko is averaging just over 16 minutes of ice time, the fewest among the seven Wings defensemen who have played in this series. He and Jonathan Ericsson have also been on the ice for just one Lightning goal each. That too is the fewest among Wings’ defensemen in this series.
“Every time that you step out onto the ice you have to do your best to not get scored on,” Marchenko said. “So it doesn’t really matter against who you play, you just need to help your team to win.”
|Reilly Smith |
|Brendan Smith |
BROTHERLY LOVE: After making his series debut on Sunday, Brendan Smith is glad to be back in the playoffs. But he’s equally thrilled to see his brother having a breakout playoff experience.
Through three games, Florida forward Reilly Smith, the younger brother of the Wings’ defenseman, is leading the NHL playoffs in goals (4), points (8) and plus/minus rating (8).
The Panthers trail 2-1 in their best-of-seven series with the New York Islanders. Game 4 is Wednesday night at Barclays Center in Brooklyn.
“He’s doing well, seems like the puck is finding him,” the Wings’ Smith said. “He’s finding ways to be productive. It’s kind of shocking that they’re actually down 2 to 1 but I think he’s been playing really well. He’s been playing really good hockey all year, and I think he gets really excited for playoffs and that’s his game even more. It’s exciting for me to see him. I’m really proud of him.”
As for the Wings’ challenges in tonight’s Game 4 at Joe Louis Arena, Smith said repeat Sunday’s winning formula and the series will be tied at 2-2 heading back to Tampa.
“They’ll be coming pretty hard,” Smith said. “I think they’re probably pretty disappointed with the outcome of the last game, so they’re gonna up their game. I didn’t know but I guess that Johnson line didn’t really get much going last game, so I expect them to have a better effort and come out flying a little bit more. There are some things that we’re gonna have to do and up our game and make sure we’re prepared for it.”