Athanasiou, Mantha carry weight of Wings’ playoff void

Ted Kulfan
The Detroit News

Detroit — Motivation for next season?

Anthony Mantha and Andreas Athanasiou have a lot, mainly from the Red Wings watching — and not competing — in the playoffs.

The stigma of being the team that ended the streak of 25 consecutive playoff appearances will be a constant motivator.

But the same can be said individually about their seasons. Occasionally having to watch — being healthy scratches for several games — is a motivation for next season and not having to go through that again.

“A learning process,” said Mantha, of his first full-time NHL season, during locker cleanout day last week. “The ups and downs we faced this season as a team, it was a lot of downs. (But) we learned from those.”

For the two young players that fans have particularly latched on to — and are definitely part of the organization’s nucleus going forward — it was a roller-coaster season.

Mantha had 17 goals an 36 points this season, and definitely showed the elite goal-scoring ability that was so evident during his junior hockey and minor league career.

But there were potholes, too.

Mantha was a healthy scratch for two games in early March, as coach Jeff Blashill wasn’t satisfied with Mantha’s competitive level and intensity.

“For me, it’s just something I have to focus on, to always have a good or great games,” Mantha said. “I watched (captain Henrik) Zetterberg practice and play and he’s always at the same level, always competing, even in practice.

“I’ll try to get that mentality for next year.”

Athanasiou had 18 goals, but played just over 13 minutes of ice time (13:27), often having difficulty earning playing time on the top lines.

Athanasiou was a healthy scratch for one game, benched during games several times, and was scolded in the media by Blashill for competitive and defensive shortcomings.

“This is a team and every night it’s going to take a team effort to win,” said Athanasiou during cleanout day. “As for individual efforts, I’m going to take care of that and make sure that I’m good for this team and making sure I give (this team) what I can give.”

Fans constantly voiced displeasure with Blashill’s use (or lack there of) of Athanasiou, wanting to see the fast and electrifying skater on the ice more often.

“I see people comment on it, message me about it, tell me about it, but I don’t pay much attention,” said Athanasiou of fan reaction. “I don’t want to say I’m happy with my production — I always want to do better — but the goal for next year is to step it up and do even better.”

From a team standpoint, being part of the roster that ended the streak stung.

That could be as big a motivator as anything from an individual standpoint.

“We’ve been in the playoffs for 25 years, we don’t want to make it two years out,” Mantha said. “We want to be back in (in the playoffs). That’s our focus for this summer and next season.

“It’s a terribe feeling to break the streak. We obviously didn’t have the season we wanted. We need to come back next year with better preparation and have a better year.”