Strong criticism hits home for Red Wings’ Anthony Mantha, Andreas Athanasiou

Ted Kulfan
The Detroit News
The Detroit Red Wings' Andreas Athanasiou and the  Vegas Golden Knights'  Tomas Hyka race for the puck during the third period Thursday night.

Columbus, Ohio – It’s rare when Detroit Red Wings captain Henrik Zetterberg appears frustrated with his teammates, but he was after Thursday’s 4-0 loss to Vegas.

Zetterberg said there was too much “poke-and-hope,” meaning there were young players who needed to play defense honestly, rather than cheat for offensive opportunities.

Anthony Mantha and Andreas Athanasiou, two young players who have felt the wrath of coach Jeff Blashill before – and after Thursday’s game, too – admitted Friday the Zetterberg was correct in his criticism.

“It wasn’t a good game for me,” Mantha said. “I made two big mistakes and it’s in the back of our net.

“I need to be sharper.”

Mantha lost the puck at the blue line Thursday during a Red Wings’ power play – the Red Wings were in the process of a line change – and suddenly Vegas had a 2-on-0 shorthanded breakaway, and Cody Eakin  scored.

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Mantha then lost Eakin in the Red Wings’ zone later in the second period, and Eakin wound up scoring again.

Mantha and Athanasiou frequently have been in Blashill’s crosshairs for lacking tenacity.

Mantha has consistently accepted the criticism – but it seems to continually crop up during the season.

“I need to keep learning,’ Mantha said. “No one is perfect. As a young guy there is so much to learn. You have to bring your ‘A’ game every night.”

Mantha said he and Athanasiou and Dylan Larkin have talked about their desire to “be better.”

“We want to be good,” Mantha said.

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Zetterberg was frustrated after Thursday’s loss, talking about the gambling for offensive opportunities.

“You want to be a solid player in this league, you want to win something, you have to learn to play the right way,” Zetterberg said. “Poke and hope might get you 25 or 30 goals but you’re never going to win anything.

“You have to play defense first. If you do that, we have guys who have enough skill to create chances and get enough chances. You can’t force on a gamble. You have to do it right and eventually you get chances.”

Zetterberg was hopeful these games lately – many of which have been difficult losses – will be learning experiences for the young players.

“I hope so,” Zetterberg said. “Because it’s not fun losing, and to start winning, you have to do things right.”

Athanasiou, who lost the puck on Vegas’ fourth and final goal, acknowledged Zetterberg’s message struck home.

“Any time you have someone like that speaking out, it’s a bit of a message to make sure you’re ready for the next one,” Athanasiou said. “If there’s one play where you can bear down a bit more, it’s going to make a huge difference.”

Blashill wasn’t surprised Zetterberg made mention of the Red Wings’ sloppiness after Thursday’s loss, given Zetterberg’s attention to detail and “he was the best player on the ice, so when you’re the best player on the ice, you can say things like that.”

Blashill added about Zetterberg: “He knows what it takes to be great, what it takes to win. It doesn’t surprise me he spoke up to make sure the message was loud and clear.”

Although it was the younger Red Wings who were put under the microscope after Zetterberg’s comments, Blashill made clear the entire lineup contributed to the disappointing loss.

“There were mistakes throughout,” Blashill said. “But I do think we have to have an understanding as we put more and more young guys into the lineup, we have to have an understanding it is a growth process.

“But it’s a continued approach.”