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Wings' Athanasiou, Marchenko get green light vs. Blue Jackets

Ted Kulfan
The Detroit News

Detroit  — The Red Wings are likely to get two important pieces back into their lineup Friday against Columbus.

Detroit Red Wings' Andreas Athanasiou returns from a sprained knee.

Forward Andreas Athanasiou and defenseman Alexey Marchenko have been both cleared to play, and were expected to return to the lineup against the Blue Jackets.

Athanasiou sprained his knee Nov. 10 against Vancouver and has missed the last 12 games.

Marchenko injured his shoulder Nov. 20 against Calgary and has been unavailable the last eight games.

Both, said coach Jeff Blashill, will be gradually worked into the lineup.

“Both have missed significant time, so you can’t have expectations too high,” Blashill said. “Your expectations have to stay real measured, and it’s going to take some time.

“Now, sometimes, that first game back there’s a lot of energy and they actually play better that first game than maybe the second or third game.
“But we just have to ease them back into situations and I have to make judgments as the game goes along, how well they are playing and get them more ice time when needed, or less if needed.”

Blashill said after Friday’s optional morning skate there were “some question marks” heading into Friday’s game, so the final lineup would be determined after the pregame skate.

Longtime teammates Larkin, Werenski now on opposite sides of ice

Judging from the morning skate, Athanasiou would start on the fourth line with Steve Ott and Tomas Jurco.

The defensive lineup remained a question mark.

Sproul sits

One defenseman who was expected to be a healthy scratch was Ryan Sproul, a healthy scratch for the third consecutive game.

Sproul supplied a spark on the power play and with his mobility and ability to carry the puck through a nine-game stretch.

But a tough night defensively Dec. 3 in Pittsburgh put Sproul on the outside of the lineup.

Blashill feels Sproul needs to be “assertive” upon his return to the lineup.

“When Ryan Sproul is assertive, both offensively and defensively, he’s an excellent player,” Blashill said. “When he loses that assertiveness, which has happened the last couple games he was in, then he’s not as good of a hockey player.

“You have to make sure when you play, you play smart but you can’t play afraid to make a mistake. You’ve got to attack the game.”

Be ready

Blashill was expecting to have Riley Sheahan at center between Gustav Nyquist and Thomas Vanek, a spot where Dylan Larkin has been playing often lately.

And, apparently, a spot Larkin will continue to do so at times.

Blashill feels the Red Wings have flexibility now that he can go different directions depending on a situation or flow to the game.

“I switched them around a little bit during the game in Winnipeg (Wednesday) but he (Sheahan) still spent the majority of time there,” Blashill said. “We’ll start that way and as the game goes along we obviously have some pieces we can work around.. Larkin can move back between those guys and he will at times coming off penalty kills.

“I told Larkin to be ready to play center and wing and I told Sheahan to be ready to play center and wing.”

Ice chips

Blashill opened Friday’s media briefing with word of support and condolences for Red Wings play-by-play man Ken Daniels, whose son Jamie, 23, passed away Wednesday in his sleep.

…Blashill has been pleased with the Red Wings’ playing disciplined recently.

“You don’t want to end up in those (penalty killing) situations,” Blashill said. “We’ve done a pretty good job of not taking penalties, we’ve been pretty disciplined. We’ve kept our stick on the ice, haven’t taken very many stick checks whether it be holds, hooks, things like that.”