‘Everything coming back’ for Wings’ Athanasiou
Detroit — With each passing game, Andreas Athanasiou is beginning to look like the Andreas Athanasiou the Red Wings, and their fans, know as one of the NHL’s fastest and more dangerous offensive players.
Athanasiou ended a five-game goal-scoring drought Saturday, scoring Detroit’s lone goal in the 2-1 shootout loss against Columbus.
But Saturday’s game was another building block for Athanasiou, who looks increasingly more comfortable jumping back into the NHL schedule without any sort of training camp.
“Everything is coming back,” said Athanasiou, who has two goals and one assist in eight games since returning from a contract holdout. “It’s still a little bit early, (just) a few games, but I’m playing well and there’s only steps forward for me to take.”
Coach Jeff Blashill has gradually begun using Athanasiou on scoring lines and a variety of lines as a way to best use Athanasiou’s offensive skills.
“Anytime I get up there (on the top lines) I try to build as much chemistry with whoever I’m out there with,” said Athanasiou, “and play off them as much as I can.”
In terms of conditioning, skills and speed, Athanasiou appears to be rounding into top form, despite missing all of training camp and the start of the regular season.
“From a standpoint of getting back after missing time, he’s totally there,” Blashill said. “Like every other player, we continue to work on getting better on a lot of things.
“He was playing good (Saturday). He started to really feel it and he got fed minutes (playing time) as a result.
“The other thing is, with the 11 forwards (Justin Abdelkader was out of the lineup and Luke Witkowski was used on defense) we had about four guys who could play center and all of them saw a lot of minutes.”
Athanasiou played 25 shifts, totaling just under 21 minutes of ice time (20:32).
Minutes after the game had ended, and Athanasiou had time to think about the play, he was still amazed.
All of the fans who watched Saturday’s loss saw goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky’s sprawling 2-on-0 save on Athanasiou in overtime.
“What a save,” said Athanasiou, in a bit of wonder.
Athanasiou described the play, a rush with Anthony Mantha and no Blue Jackets defender in sight other than Bobrovsky guarding his net.
But on Saturday, the Red Wings found out — as they usually do when facing Bobrovsky — it’s not easy getting a puck past the two-time Vezina Trophy (best goaltender) winner.
“I looked back there and saw we had a little bit of time,” Athanasiou said. “I saw Mantha hustling up, so I thought it’d be better to make it a 2-on-0 instead of a 1-on-0 because he (Bobrovsky) has to worry about two shooters.
“But, obviously, it didn’t matter for him. He’s an unbelievable goalie. You’ve seen it the past few years how good he is.”
Bobrovsky and goalie Jimmy Howard both put on clinics at times Saturday, so it was only fitting it took nine rounds of the shootout before the Blue Jackets were finally able to clinch the outcome.
“Some of the saves that were made were incredible,” Blashill said. “Obviously in overtime there were some unreal saves and then the shootout goes on forever.
“It was fitting the shootout went that long because both goalies were excellent. It looked like two of the better goalies in the league, the way both of those guys are on top of their game.”
The Red Wings should know more about Abdelkader’s (cheekbone fracture) status Monday after he sees a specialist.
Abdelkader suffered a cheekbone fracture during a fight Wednesday with Calgary’s Troy Brouwer. Abdelkader missed Saturday’s game, and for now, is listed as day-to-day. The Red Wings feel this will be a short-term injury.
...Saturday’s shootout loss ended a 12-game shootout win streak for the Red Wings, who hadn’t lost a shootout since Feb. 20, 2016, in Ottawa.
...Frans Nielsen scored the lone Red Wings goal in the shootout and now has 46 for his career, passing Radim Vrbata to become the all-time leader. Nielsen has had 93 attempts compared to Vrbata’s 105.
...Blashill wasn’t overly disappointed with Saturday’s game, despite the outcome.
“We wanted to make sure we didn’t shoot ourselves in the foot, (but) we did with the first goal so that’s something we have to keep working on,” he said. “But overall, we had some good (offensive) pushes. It went back and forth, but from a process standpoint, it was a continued step in the right direction.”