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Detroit — One positive early development, as the Red Wings' regular season crawls to the quarter point of the schedule?

The play of forward Andreas Athanasiou.

An enigma in his first two seasons with the Red Wings, a young player who frustrated coaches and fans alike, is becoming a player coach Jeff Blashill can count on.

The latest bright spot concerning Athanasiou was scoring the tying goal Friday against the New York Rangers, then setting up Dylan Larkin in overtime for the exciting winner.

That gave Athanasiou five goals and three assists in 12 games — Athanasiou returned Friday after missing four games with an upper body injury — and continued a focused attention to playing since the start of training camp.

“I would just say that from the first day of camp, he’s been engaged and done the things that it takes to be a real good hockey player,” coach Jeff Blashill said. “His habits have been real good in practice and he’s done a real good job for us.”

Athanasiou missed the start of last season in a contract stalemate and had difficulty finding his stride during the season.

Signed in the off-season to a 2-year contract worth $6 million ($3 million per season), Athanasiou arrived in camp on time and has been dedicated to hockey.

Returning to the lineup with linemate Frans Nielsen Friday was exciting for both.

“It’s definitely a good feeling to be back playing again,” Athanasiou said. “Fransy’s happy to be back (too).  It’s good for both of us to get started earlier.

“Definitely feels good (to produce offensively), especially when it’s a goal that we need late in the game. It’s something that I really enjoy doing, trying to get the boys back in when we’re down and fortunate enough it worked out there.”

Consistent Howard

Goaltender Jimmy Howard continued his mastery of the Rangers, and his stellar regular season, with another starring role against the Rangers.

Howard reached the .500 mark with Friday’s victory (5-5-2) and is nearing the .920 mark in save percentage (.918), a benchmark these days for starring goaltending.

“Jimmy was excellent,” Blashill said. “What really good goaltending does is allows you to hang in there throughout the game when you’re not playing your best hockey and that’s what happened (Friday).

“We were allowed to hang in when we certainly weren’t playing our best hockey. Jimmy has been excellent all year.”

Ice chips

Forward Jacob de la Rose (lower body) wasn’t available Saturday, and Blashill is classifying him as day-to-day. Wade Megan took de la Rose’s spot in the lineup.

… Former Red Wings goaltender Petr Mrazek was out with a lower body injury and is day-to-day. He has a 3-3-2 record, 2.76 goals-against average, and .880 save percentage this season in Carolina.

ted.kulfan@detroitnews.com

twitter.com: tkulfan

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