Wings’ Athanasiou knows he has to step up his defense

Gregg Krupa
The Detroit News
Andreas Athanasiou

Detroit — Andreas Athanasiou is plainly an offensive catalyst, and the Red Wings need more goals in the playoff drive.

But the Wings are giving up too many goals, too, and Athanasiou’s defensive performance has caused Jeff Blashill to keep him on the bench at times.

The 21-year-old is averaging 9:21 time on ice through 30 games, but it varies.

In the last five games, beginning March 17 against the Blue Jackets, he has played 10:01, 6:28, 13:35, 8:24 and 12:16.

More time on ice is likely to mean more scoring, and Athanasiou says he is confident his defensive performance will improve.

“I’m confident in my D-zone,” Athanasiou said recently. “Very rarely will I let someone beat me back to the net.

“In Grand Rapids, I think I really showed Blash he can have confidence in me in the D-zone.”

Athanasiou’s speed is so singular, he can remind some fans of Canadiens great Yvan Cournoyer, who played from 1963-79.

Due to doubts about his defensive play, Canadiens coach Toe Blake mostly kept Cournoyer on the power play his first five seasons. It was only after Blake retired in 1968 that a new coach, Claude Ruel, granted a regular shift to Cournoyer, a member of the Hockey Hall of Fame.

“Obviously, I have to step it up here,” Athanasiou said.

“I know (Blashill) wouldn’t give me the opportunity, if he didn’t trust me up here.”

Granato update

When news leaked this weekend Tony Granato is in line for the coaching job at his alma mater, Wisconsin, one could almost feel the Red Wings cringe.

Not best in the middle of a desperate playoff drive for fans to hear one of the assistants has planned his exit.

But professional life is professional life, and Wisconsin likely needs to lay claim to a new coach, quickly, after firing Mike Eaves.

After four years playing for the Badgers, a 13-year NHL career that included three 30-goal seasons with the Kings, duties in the NHL as an assistant and coach (Avalanche), Granato seems ideally suited for the job in Madison.

Citing an unnamed source, the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinal reported the job is Granato’s, with an announcement expected this week.

But the Red Wings made clear Granato would not address the issue Monday, and said they will have no comment until something becomes official.

“Guys, I just want to touch on one thing,” Blashill said in an unusual statement before he took questions from the media.

Blashill then delineated the terms: The Wings knew Granato and Wisconsin were talking, nothing is official, no comment until it is and Granato is committed to his current job at least until the team stops playing.

Gordie at The Joe

Gordie Howe’s appearance at Joe Louis Arena Monday night was not expected to include any public statements.

Howe continues to recover from strokes, and in the company of his son and the Wings chief pro scout Mark and another son, Dr. Murray Howe, he gave what was announced as his last interview in 2012 at Joe Louis Arena.

Before the strokes, the Howe family said Gordie was experiencing symptoms of dementia.

Howe turns 88 on Thursday. Each seat at Joe Louis Arena contained a Gordie Howe placard.

Red Wings at Canadiens

Faceoff: 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Belle Centre, Montreal

TV/radio: FSD/97.1

Outlook: Amid the first of three consecutive sets of back-to-back games, Detroit travels to Montreal immediately after playing Buffalo on Monday. ... The Red Wings barley hung on to beat the Canadiens last Thursday in a game that was a microcosm of their inconsistency this season. They played an average first period, a brilliant second and were horrible the first 8:30 of the third before hanging on.