Andreas Athanasiou proves to be prolific X-factor in Red Wings' offense

Ted Kulfan
The Detroit News
Andreas Athanasiou is headed toward a career year with 17 goals in 39 games so far this season.

Detroit — Admit it, you’ve been waiting for Andreas Athanasiou to go into a lengthy slump.

As Athanasiou was apt to do the previous two seasons, going through stretches where he’d be red-hot, then out of sight in terms of the scoresheet.

That was one of the larger knocks against Athanasiou, his lack of consistency.

But if you’ve been waiting, well, you may keep on waiting.

The halfway point of the schedule has passed, and Athanasiou keeps rolling along, Tuesday scoring both Red Wings’ goals in a 3-2 loss to Montreal.

“You’re seeing more of him doing it on a nightly basis,” defenseman Niklas Kronwall said. “In the past, his early years in the league, it was more bits and pieces.

“He’s doing it more on a consistent basis and that’s really paying off. He could have had a hat trick (Tuesday).”

Statistics don’t always tell the tale of situation, but the stark numbers do in Athanasiou’s case.

His 17 goals this season have come in only 39 games (and Athanasiou has six in the last seven games).  Compare that to the 16 goals he had all of last season –— in 71 games.

Athanasiou appears headed to easily shatter his career-high, which was 18, in 2016-17.

“We talk about guys who have an X-factor,” Kronwall said. “He’s a guy that can score a goal out of nowhere, just the way he skates.”

In the past, coach Jeff Blashill has benched, or made Athanasiou a healthy scratch, as a way to remind Athanasiou of the need to consistently work on the ice, and pay attention to his defensive responsibilities.

But that tough love message hasn’t been needed, thus far, this season.

Maybe it’s a more mature Athanasiou, at age 24, or averting any sort of contract issue — unlike the previous year — having signed a 2-year contract worth $6 million in July.

From day of one of training camp, Athanasiou has looked laser-focused on tapping the potential many hockey people felt he had, but simply hadn’t consistently shown.

“He was engaged and on it,” said Blashill, of Athanasiou’s training camp. “His pre-season was outstanding for the most part. I just think he’s done a good job of taking septs in the right direction.

“It comes from his daily approach in practice, which has been very good. His engagement and work ethic from day one has been very good and witih that, when he does that on a consistent basis, he’s a real good player.

“And that shows up in games.”

Athanasiou, for his part, has mostly brushed aside the talk about consistency, or his offensive production, or ability to generate a scoring chance out of nothing because of his sizzling speed.

But the shot, too, is becoming noticed for his velocity and accuracy, able to find holes in any goaltender's stance.

“Pucks are bouncing the right way,” said Athanasiou of his hot streak. “Just keep working hard and generating those opportunities and try to make the most of them when they come.

“Just play hard every night and bring my game. Do what I have to do to be ready come game time.”

That speed that’s been Athanasiou’s weapon against opponents has been starkly on display on several of his recent goals, Athanasiou simply out-racing a defender, and establishing space for himself.

“It seems like out of nowhere he can make something happen,” goaltender Jimmy Howard said. “He’s talented, he’s got great hands and a great shot. He’s finding ways to get open using his speed.”

But, mainly, it’s been a different sort of Athanasiou, able to make an impact on a game-to-game basis and not becoming invisible.

“How you approach every day ultimately tells you how you’re going to play,” Blashill said. “He’s done a good job of that.”

Twitter: @tkulfan