Alexey Marchenko isn't a flashy defenseman and he doesn't usually make the highlight packages. What he does is a lot of really smart, effective things have a big impact on the game. He's a quiet, shy, unassuming person and those traits carry over into his play, but when you watch him closely on the ice, there's a lot to appreciate. In the game against the Arizona Coyotes on December 5th, Marchenko made a lot of great plays that went unheralded. Let's take a look at just a few of the Marchenko highlights from that game and break down why they were so good.
Marchenko has Max Domi covered perfectly at the point, and uses his body to push Domi further into the Coyotes zone to keep the puck on sides. In addition to using his size and strength to push Domi, Marchenko also ties up Domi's stick which keeps him from being able to get to the puck. Marchenko gets enough of a touch on the puck to keep it from exiting the zone and Gustav Nyquist is able to swing back and scoop it up. The puck could have easily come out of the Coyotes zone with Antoine Vermette looking for a breakaway. After Nyquist gets the puck, instead of immediately falling back, Marchenko sticks with Domi and drives directly to the net with his stick angled looking for a deflection goal. As soon as the puck goes back to the boards, Marchenko's in pursuit and (not seen in the gif) gets right back in his defensive position without missing a beat. If Marchenko plays conservative and backs off Domi at all, Max could have sprung Vermette and suddenly the puck's headed towards the Wings zone.
Late in the 1st period the Coyotes had the puck deep in the Wings zone. Steve Downie has the puck behind the goal line and Brendan Smith is trying to cover him. Downie backhands the puck out to Dustin Jeffrey who's heading straight for the net. Zetterberg covers Jeffrey and neither player gets control of the puck and it squirts up into the air. Marchenko, who's covering Brad Richardson, is paying full attention to his surroundings and sees the puck up in the air. He gets to the mid air puck just in front of Richardson and bats it out of danger and behind the Wings net, where he follows through and gets control. We've seen the Wings get clustered in their own zone like this before, lose their coverage and suddenly let in a goal because they hung their goalie out to dry. Marchenko is calm, attentive, aware, and efficient and turned what probably would have been a point blank scoring chance for Arizona into a not dangerous situation.
Early in the 2nd period the Wings have control of the puck in the Coyotes zone when the puck come around behind the Arizona net right to Max Domi at the half boards. Marchenko pinches in from the point and smartly uses his body to knock Domi over, keep him from getting the puck, and is a big part of keeping the puck not only in the Coyotes zone, but also in keeping the Wings in possession and Tatar and Nyquist almost scored a goal. Again this is a perfect example of one of those "little" things that Marchenko does that are easy to overlook, but that also made the difference between Domi getting control of the puck and having all day to get the puck going up towards the Wings zone, and Detroit keeping control and getting a couple great scoring chances.
Then here he once again pinches in smartly along the half wall and engages Tobias Rieder, using his body and stick to tie up the puck. Pavel Datsyuk comes in to help dig the puck out and it followed by Nicklas Grossmann and Martin Hanzal. Three Coyotes and and 2 Wings are trying to dig the puck out and get possession. Now watch Marchenko's right foot carefully in the close up. Sticks and legs are all tangled up and Marchenko sticks his right foot in and uses his tie to scoop the puck out and behind him to Dylan Larkin who's covering the point. Wings maintain possession, unfortunately Larkin gave the puck away. Marchenko then swoops right back into defensive posture.
Late in the 2nd period Marchenko had a couple nice passes that helped get the Wings going up ice. First his slick pass to Nyquist. Brendan Smith goes behind the Wings net with Jordan Martinook in pursuit of the puck. It's hard to tell which player is going to get the puck, but Marchenko is following behind them, reaches his stick in and takes the puck. With the puck on his stick in the corner, Marchenko has 3 Coyotes closing in on him and Steve Downie flying in trying to plaster Marchenko onto the glass. Marchenko doesn't rush or panic or get rid of the puck, instead he passes right through all 3 Coyotes players and onto the tape of Gustav Nyquist's stick. With 3 Coyotes all converging on Marchenko, and Marchy taking the hit to make the play, Nyquist now has time, space, and the puck. He's easily able to skate it into the neutral zone where he passes to Tomas Tatar and boom the Wings have possession in the Coyotes zone.
JJ thought the pass was pretty good too.
The pass Marchenko just made to bust the Wings out of the zone is one that I'd like to watch a documentary about.— Winging It In Motown (@wingingitmotown) December 4, 2015
On the same shift, when Brendan Smith can't handle the puck and it comes back out to the neutral zone, Tatar comes over and sends it back to Marchenko, who gives it right back to Tatar and the Wings are back into the Coyotes zone. The pass to Nyquist isn't something that's going to make the highlight reel, but it made the difference between the Wings getting offensive zone time, and the Coyotes getting possession deep in the Wings zone. He made the simple, smart play under pressure and took the flying hit from Downie in order to do so.
Here Marchenko jumps up, goes backdoor on Lindback and puts himself into position to receive a feed from Zetterberg, and he almost got a tip in goal. It's a really smart decision by Marchenko to go to the net here and if max Domi doesn't keep Marchenko from getting his shot off, it's a tip in goal. As Marchenko moves in, Brendan Smith comes over and covered the right point and Pavel Datsyuk it watching the left. After Marchenko's attempt went wide, he follows it to the corner where he eventually gets the puck back to Brendan Smith at the point. Once again, I can't stress enough how good Marchenko's stick is along the boards. Smith has the puck now thanks to Marchenko and...
Gives it right back to Marchenko who spins around to handle the pass and gives it to Dylan Larkin near the faceoff dot. While Larkin and Smith are switching around and Smith is getting in position to take a shot, Marchenko is right back making a bee line to the net. He gets tag teamed, hooked, and crosschecked twice, for his effort, but while Domi and Vermette are focused on Marchenko, Smith takes the shot on Lindback, and Datsyuk follows up with another point blank attempt on the rebound.
Here Marchenko leads the rush into the offensive zone. He doesn't gain entry himself, but he's got two Coyotes players on him and sends the pass across the blue line to Tatar who does gain entry and the Wings end up with a shot on Lindback that he has to hold and they get an offensive zone faceoff.
The Arizona game may have been the best of the season for Marchenko in terms of digging through the examples of his good play, but you'll see these types of smart decisions and smooth puck moves in any game he's played for Detroit so far. Marchenko's a very technical, precise player and he uses his energy efficiently. He'll find the "simplest", most efficient way to get the puck from point A to point B, assess his situation, remain clam under pressure, and execute his plan. He's also great with his stick along the boards, whether it's holding the puck in at the point, or digging pucks out of board battles. He may not be a flashy player but he's smart, efficient, and makes the right decision most of the time.