Wings’ Athanasiou-Larkin line opens some eyes

Ted Kulfan
The Detroit News

Detroit — As soon as Dylan Larkin got the puck on his stick, Andreas Athanasiou knew what to do.

Athanasiou looked down the ice on the play Friday against the New York Rangers, and waited for Larkin to do his thing.

“Once I saw Lark get the puck I just kind of took off,” said Athanasiou, who thrived playing on a wing on Larkin’s line. “I knew he’d flip it. I didn’t even see him flip it. I knew it would be somewhere in front of me and it was a perfect bounce.”

Athanasiou beat two Rangers defensemen to the puck, then snapped a shot past goalie Henrik Lundqvist. The goal ended a 15-game goal-drought for Athanasiou, who had a team-high eight shots on net and bothered the Rangers with his speed all evening.

Athanasiou was set to be back on a wing Sunday night against the Penguins at Little Caesars Arena, still playing with Larkin.

“I could have had a couple,” Athanasiou said of playing against the Rangers. “It doesn’t matter really if I’m at wing or center. It’s just getting into the game early and getting those quick shifts and just getting into the game.”

Athanasiou has primarily been the fourth-line center lately, along with getting power play, getting inconsistent minutes and going through the offensive drought.

Being on a wing, playing major minutes while on Larkin’s line, appeared to maximize Athanasiou’s strengths.

“He’s good at the center position,” said coach Jeff Blashill, who was quick to say he likes Athanasiou at both positions. “I wouldn’t say I prefer him at win, he’s got to win more faceoffs if he wants to be a center in the NHL. Both ways, the more he uses his speed away from the puck and not just wait for it to come to him, and take off (the better).

“They’re (Athanasiou, Larkin) both speed players. They both play a rush game. Their games are alike. Double-A has always played well with rush-type players.”

Blashill then added the fact, or statement, that’s usually been attached to Athanasiou.

“To me, Double-A’s game totally comes down to when he works and competes hard, he’s a really good player,” Blashill said.

Both Athanasiou and Larkin have the speed that can make opposing teams frazzled, and having played together briefly in the past, have formed some chemistry.

“When you feel like you have someone who is going to find you, you can kind of skate forever,” Larkin said. “I felt that my first year playing with (Henrik) Zetterberg.

“Either way, he’s (Athanasiou) a good player. He has a ton of speed.”

Zetterberg feels Athanasiou can utilize his speed on wing.

“It frees him up a bit,” Zetterberg said. “He’s been doing a great job at center but he had a little bit more responsibility.

“Now as a winger, he can blow the zone a little bit. It’s tough for the defenseman to do anything when he comes with that speed. It’s good to see.”

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Anthony Mantha (lower body) missed his second consecutive game, but did take part in Sunday’s optional morning skate. Blashill was optimistic Mantha could return for Wednesday’s game against Ottawa.

…The Red Wings were to face former teammate Riley Sheahan on Sunday against the Penguins. Sheahan was traded early this season for Scott Wilson (since traded to Buffalo) and draft picks going to both teams.

Sheahan had no points in eight games with the Red Wings, and has three goals and eight assists with Pittsburgh.

“It’s going to be a lot of fun facing off against some old friends,” Sheahan said. “I’ll have to do a good job of focusing, but it’ll be fun to see them on the ice.

“I saw a couple of them last night for dinner, and then seeing them (at the morning skate). It’s good to see old faces.”