After benching, Wings’ Athanasiou ready to make amends

Ted Kulfan
The Detroit News

Detroit — Andreas Athanasiou is getting another chance Thursday in Tampa, after a forgettable game against Anaheim on Tuesday.

Coach Jeff Blashill sat Athanasiou for much of the third period — Athanasiou only played one shift; 9 minutes, 38 seconds for the game — and the Red Wings protecting a one-goal lead. Blashill was direct about why Athanasiou watched rather than played.

Red Wings center Andreas Athanasiou is checked by Anaheim left wing Nick Ritchie in the second period Tuesday at Little Caesars Arena in Detroit.

“I was playing the guys that I thought were going,” Blashill said after the 2-1 Red Wings victory. “Some nights, (Athanasiou) is really going and tonight, through my eyes, he wasn’t going quite as good in my mind.

“It got to be a three-line game, they (the Ducks) were playing three lines. I liked the match I was seeing so I stayed with the match, I was going with the guys I thought were going.”

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But Blashill was quick to point out Athanasiou was going to be back on Dylan Larkin’s line against the Lightning and get another opportunity.

“There’s nights he’s going for sure and everybody can see it,” Blashill said. “When him and I talked as he was coming back, we talked about making sure he’s going. We’ll make sure he gets the ice time. (Tuesday) just wasn’t his night. He’ll get another chance against Tampa to have a big impact.

“I just wanted to make sure he understood, to get him back on the horse here. We have lots of guys who are important pieces and he’s one of them. There’s other guys some nights their minutes are diminished a little bit.”

Blashill has either benched or scratched Athanasiou, 23, several times over the last two seasons, after a sub-par effort from the young forward. Few players on the roster have Athanasiou’s skill or speed, but the inconsistency and lack of engaging on the ice every game has been a negative mark early in his career.

After Wednesday’s practice, Athanasiou was disappointed, but he understood Blashill’s actions.

“No one likes to sit but it’s the way it is,” Athanasiou said. “We got the two points, that’s the biggest thing. It’s never fun not hearing (your name called to get on the ice) but there’s nothing you can do about it. He has to make his decisions to win the game, and we won the game.

“I don’t know if you can be surprised. The way the game unfolds, he has to make coaching adjustments and line matchups and that’s the way some games go.

“There’s another game (Thursday) and we’ll see how it goes.”

Athanasiou has struggled offensively, not scoring a goal in 11 games — and only on goal in the last 15 games, with three assists in that span.

In his short NHL career, consistency is an area Athanasiou has struggled, and continues to do so.

“The key is trying to find that consistency every game,” Athanasiou said. “Every game, being out th ere and just producing with what I get (ice time). It’s the way it is, and you have to make do with what you got.”

Blashill is pleased with the way Athanasiou has been responding to coaching and instruction this season, and particularly over the last month as Athanasiou’s offense has stalled.

“He’s been real receptive the last month whenever I’ve talked to him,” Blashill said. “Whether it’s criticism or positive, it’s trying to help him be the best possible player and helping our team.

“No doubt, for us, we need him to be a real good player and play at a high level. Hopefully he comes out and is flying against Tampa.”

Athanasiou was clear as to what was expected of him.

“We all know the structure in this room and just sticking to it,” he said. “Whenever I get my chances, I have to make the most of them. With whatever (ice time) I get tomorrow, I’m going to try to make the most of it and whatever minutes it is, I’ll try to do the best I can to help the team.”