Marchenko fits right in with Wings

Ted Kulfan
The Detroit News

Detroit — Just be patient, Alexey Marchenko kept telling himself.

Stay patient, do your job, and eventually the Red Wings will notice.

And they finally did, bringing Marchenko from Grand Rapids on Friday and into his first NHL appearance this season Saturday in the Red Wings' 4-1 victory over the Islanders.

Marchenko jumped into the lineup, played 15 minutes, 26 seconds and was credited with two hits.

"He was steady," coach Mike Babocck said. "He had a couple of nervous shifts but after that, he was steady."

Marchenko was excited about the chance to be back in the NHL — he played in one Wings game last season.

"I'm happy I got a chance to be here," said Marchenko, who was paired with Brendan Smith. "You just wait and work hard and play as good you can. You do what you can do to make Grand Rapids a better team."

Poll scouts who've seen the list of Griffins defensemen just a step away from the Red Wings and you'll find different answers as to who is closer to playing regularly in the NHL.

Xavier Ouellet certainly is on the list. But others prefer Marchenko, a sturdy 6-foot-3, 210-pound right-hand shot who had pro experience in Russia's KHL before he arrived in North America.

"We knew he'd (be) here eventually," said Babcock, who likes the characteristics Marchenko brings to the lineup. "He's a steady, big man, right-hand shot, who knows how to play without the puck."

Babcock felt there was a chance Marchenko could get to the Red Wings early this season. But getting into form after after surgery for a severe high ankle sprain which ended Marchenko's season in late February last year took longer than anticipated.

"It took him a while to get going this year," Babcock said. "It took him some time."

"It feels way better than training camp," said Marchenko of his ankle.

Marchenko, 23, a 2011 seventh-round draft pick, had two goals and 15 assists in 42 games in Grand Rapids, with a plus-17 rating.

Marchenko felt his season debut Saturday was a good first step.

"I was feeling good but I can play better," Marchenko said. "Maybe be a little quicker with passes.

"I'm just going to try to play my game and do what I can do. The big thing is play good defensively."

Bounce back

Goalie Petr Mrazek has been pulled twice in the last couple of weeks and responded each time the next game with a winning performance.

Mrazek stopped 22 Islanders shots in Saturday's victory.

"Those things happen sometimes," Babcock said of being pulled. "You have to have a short memory in this league as a goaltender. He's now been yanked twice and he's responded the next night. I really like that."

"He still has to develop as a goaltender. He has to work on his skill set, but his mind is really good."

The Red Wings are 7-1-0 since Jimmy Howard (slight groin tear) was injured Jan. 10, with Mrazek earning six of the victories.

"Not many teams in the league are going to win seven of eight with their third goalie," Babcock said, noting Jonas Gustavsson (shoulder) has also been unavailable. "It's just not possible. We feel real positive about the depth of our goaltending."

Mrazek attempted to stay positive and upbeat after a subpar performance Sunday in Tampa Bay.

"That's what you're trying to do, bounce back and get two points," Mrazek said. "It's the NHL and I'm learning how to be ready and prepare for every game."

Gustavsson update

Gustavsson, incidentally, played his first game in three months Saturday in Grand Rapids, stopping 29 of 32 shots (one empty-net goal) in a 4-0 loss to Milwaukee.

Gustavsson will play one more game Wednesday for the Griffins, then could rejoin the Red Wings on an upcoming road trip to Colorado (Thursday) and Arizona (Saturday).

"The longer the game went on, I felt better," Gustavsson said. "It was a good test."

ted.kulfan@detroitnews.com

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