Wings’ Athanasiou says NHL a ‘learning game’

Ted Kulfan
The Detroit News

Detroit — Anthony Mantha calls it a “learning process,” referring to the education of any young player to the NHL and what it takes to be successful.

Andreas Athanasiou wholeheartedly agrees.

Athanasiou, just like Mantha, has been a healthy scratch or has had his playing time slashed by coach Jeff Blashill when the situation has been warranted.

Maybe for not competing hard enough, or not doing what is necessary to be an NHL player each and every night.

Athanasiou can relate to what Mantha went through.

“Every season you come into, you learn every day,” Athanasiou said. “It’s never-ending. It’s always a learning game in this line of work.

“I wouldn’t stay just this season, from a learning standpoint. It’s every day where you try to pick something up and try to take something away from it.”

Athanasiou was a healthy scratch on Jan. 4 in Anaheim, but responded with goals in three consecutive games after that. He has been in the lineup steadily since.

Athanasiou is second on the team to Tomas Tatar (21) in goals, with 16.

While opponents appear as if they’re adapting to Athanasiou’s speed, he still can break open a game instantly with it.

The fact Athanasiou spent time in the American League, he feels, was a benefit.

“Obviously this (the NHL) is a step up. It’s the best league in the world, and this is where the bar is set,” Athanasiou said. “(But) people underestimate how good the American League is.

“It’s really tough there. A lot of guys fly around and there’s a lot of skilled guys down there, a lot of good players.”

Athanasiou is excited about the potential of playing with Dylan Larkin, two of the fastest players in the NHL playing on the same line.

“It’s been a lot of fun,” Athanasiou said. “We’ve had a little bit of experience (as linemates) in Traverse City (training camp) and Grand Rapids (when both were in the minor leagues) a little bit, and even this year we never really played together, but these last few games we’ve been playing well and building some good chemistry.”

Different times

The Red Wings have faced Tampa Bay the last two springs in the NHL playoffs, losing a seven-game series in 2015 and a five-game series last season.

The playoffs are a distant hope for the Red Wings this season, and the Lightning are struggling against hope of playing beyond the regular-season finale April 9 themselves.

Injuries, inconsistency and the decision to trade several veterans at the trade deadline all have transpired to put Tampa outside the playoff picture, as well.

So Friday’s game has gone from what many fans probably considered to be a playoff preview when the schedule was released, to just another game to play out the string.

But don’t tell the Red Wings that.

“It’ll be a good battle, it’s always a good battle with them,” Blashill said. “They’re obviously fighting hard for playoff hopes and we’re making sure we continue to play extremely hard and continue this culture that is one of the best in the league.”

Ice chips

Darren Helm (lower body) practiced Thursday but didn’t face much contact, which makes it unlikely he’ll return to face the Lightning.

Gustav Nyquist didn’t skate Thursday, but Blashill said “it was a maintenance day. We expect him to be available.”

Lightning at Red Wings

Faceoff: 7:30 p.m. Friday, Joe Louis Arena, Detroit

TV/radio: FSD/97.1 FM

Outlook: Tampa Bay sits outside the playoff picture in the Eastern Conference and time is running out. …The loss of C Steven Stamkos (knee surgery) has hurt the Lightning this season. … G Andrei Vasilevskiy (.915 SVS, 2.68 GAA) is now the No. 1 goalie.