Detroit — Andreas Athanasiou and Frans Nielsen will return to the lineup for the Red Wings against the Rangers on Friday night, in a battle between two teams that heated up after slow starts to the season.
“I plan on both of them, tonight,” coach Jeff Blashill said Friday.
Athanasiou, 24, in his fourth NHL season, missed four games since Oct. 30 with a leg injury, and Nielsen, 34, in his 13th season, missed the same four games with a concussion.
Athanasiou has four goals and two assists in 11 games played, and Nielsen zero and six in 11.
After a 1-7-2 start, the Red Wings are 4-1 since Oct. 28.
After a 3-7-1 start, the Rangers are 4-0 since Oct. 30.
“I didn’t think we’ve gotten out of our end very well the last two games, at all,” said Blashill, when asked about areas in which the Wings require improvement.
“I don’t think that’s sustainable for success.
“If you don’t get out of your own end. I think that’s the biggest thing in this league, right now. Everyone pressures so hard and stays on top of you so well, you’ve got to do a job getting out of your end.
“So, it’s something we’ve worked very hard on, specifically Wednesday, and we worked on it a little bit yesterday, as well. And, it’s something that’s going to be critical for us.”
After idolizing the former Rangers goaltender Mike Richter as a child and wearing the No. 35 in his honor, the Red Wings starting goalie Jimmy Howard always has looked forward to playing The Blueshirts.
Some of his recent battles with the Rangers' Henrik Lundqvist, one of the premier goalies of his generation, have only sweetened the pot.
“It’s been fun, every single night,” said Howard, who was born in Syracuse and raised in upstate New York.
“It’s no secret around here. Everyone, I think. knows around here the Rangers were my childhood team. I just really enjoy going out there and playing against the Rangers.”
Howard is arguably the best Wings’ player so far this season.
In 11 games played, he is 4-5-2 with a 2.93 save percentage and .917 goals against average, despite back-stopping and injury-riddle roster, which is in transition, for much of the year, so far.
“There’s no room for error for either one of us,” Howard said. “But, it makes it enjoyable.
“It makes for an intense matchup and for the game to be a lot of fun.”
In his career, Howard is 7-3-3 with a 1.74 goals against average and .949 save percentage in 13 games against the Rangers.
Lundqvist is 7-4-4 in 15 games played against the Red Wings, with a .937 save percentage and 1.96 goals against average.
It is the 36-year-old, 14-year veteran’s best career save percentage against an opponent, and tied with the Coyotes for his best goals against average.