DETROIT - The Red Wings welcome back captain Henrik Zetterberg tonight.
Zetterberg missed the World Cup, training camp and most of the preseason because of a knee injury he sustained during off-ice training.
Now Zetterberg, who turns 36 Sunday, makes his preseason debut tonight at home against the Toronto Maple Leafs.
"This game tonight's going to be huge for just to be back playing games," Zetterberg said. "You can only do that much in practice but you need to be out there and play games. So we're happy I was able to come back here and play tonight and it will help me for Thursday."
At least initially, Zetterberg will be on a line with Frans Nielsen and Tomas Tatar. Zetterberg will start on the wing.
"Even though I've been a center before, I've been playing wing too so it's not a big difference for me," Zetterberg said. "Even when I've been playing with Pavel (Datsyuk), and if he's been center, we've kind f been switching on and off and it will probably be a little similar when me and Frans play."
Having said that, even though Zetterberg and Nielsen have been friends for many years, they have never played together so it might take some time to get used to each other.
"He's been at the World Cup and I've been injured so we haven't gotten that many practices with each other," Zetterberg said. "We get tonight and all next week and should be ready to go for Tampa."
Wings coach Jeff Blashill said getting Zetterberg ready for the season opener was the goal all along once he got injured.
"He started to really progress from working with our training staff to working with our strength coach Mike Kadar on the ice to now working into practice all this week," Blashill said. "He's practiced the whole week. We expect him to be ready to play tonight and step in to play next (Thursday)."
LAST CHANCE TO IMPRESS: The Wings will have most of their regulars in the lineup for the final preseason game against the Maple Leafs.
That includes Zetterberg and the Team Europe players - Nielsen, Tatar and Thomas Vanek - making their debut.
Because Drew Miller, Luke Glendening and Steve Ott played Friday, that opens up another opportunity for Anthony Mantha and Andreas Athanasiou to play.
"The good thing is I got a chance to watch in Chicago, I got a chance to watch in Pitt, I got a chance to watch last night and I'm going to get a chance to watch tonight," Blashill said. "Then the guys that we feel are going to give us our best chance to win in Tampa are going to play in Tampa. So we'll see what shakes out."
Mantha has two goals in four games while Athanasiou has one goal and three assists in four games.
"I think I've done well," Athanasiou said. "I'm just going to keep playing my game, do what I do. I know what my game is. I'm not going to try to stray away from it and do something that I'm not used to."
Mantha has size and Athanasiou has speed. Both are also very good friends.
"We've been playing together for years now," Athanasiou said. "We hang out so much. You never want to see anything like that happen but that's how the game is. He's going to do everything he can to make the team and I'm going to do everything I can to make the team. It would be unbelievable if both of us could but you never know what's going to happen."
The fact is both Mantha and Athanasiou could be sent down as they are still waiver-exempt.
Blashill has the two starting with Riley Sheahan at center.
Athanasiou is keeping a good attitude about the situation.
"There's a lot of players here and a lot of good players," Athanasiou said. "You can't really look at that, let that effect your game. I think everyone sees how many players are here. What you have to do is put that aside and go play your game and the rest will take care of itself."
Meanwhile, the Wings did place several players on waivers Saturday, including forwards Martin Frk, Eric Tangradi and Mitch Callahan, plus defensemen Nick Jensen and Brian Lashoff.
Those players have until noon Sunday to clear.
SVECHNIKOV GOES OUT WITH A BANG: Evgeny Svechnikov, the Wings' 2015 first-round draft pick, 19th overall, scored both goals in a 2-1 preseason win over the Maple Leafs Friday.
Svechnikov has three goals in four games.
"I met him when we first drafted him," Blashill said. "I heard great things about his inner drive and desire, which ultimately the difference whether guys make it to the level they should or not. I heard great things that way. I think what I've seen this year is right away he was noticeably quicker so he trained really hard off the ice to get quicker. Last night was the first game where he did some real, real special things with the puck. He's been a good player, he's done a good job through the preseason but last night he showed a little bit of high-end ability in those areas so that was a good step in the right direction."
Blashill said Svechnikov, who will play in Grand Rapids this season, still needs to continue to work on quickness and staying out of the penalty box.