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John Niyo and Ted Kulfan preview the Red Wings' 2019-2020 season on "The Detroit News' Red Wings Report." The Detroit News

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Nashville, Tenn. — It’s been a struggle for Andreas Athanasiou this early part of the season.

Athanasiou caught a rut on the ice during training camp in Traverse City that triggered a minor injury and kept him out of several practices.

Then, once Athanasiou returned to the lineup, he banged into the boards while sliding and falling, after scoring a goal against the New York Islanders in his first preseason game.

Now, that has kept him on and off the ice heading into Saturday’s regular season opener in Nashville

Athanasiou skated in Saturday’s morning skate and both he and coach Jeff Blashill deemed Athanasiou a game-time decision — although judging by his skating, it looked Athanasiou would be ready to go.

“Obviously, it’s a little bit frustrating,” said Athanasiou of his early season health struggles. “You want to get things going and rolling and it’s been kind of halted by some unfortunate things. Caught a rut in trainng camp and a little tweak there, and hitting the boards, not much you can do about it. It’s part of the game, and you try to do the best you can to get back as quick as possible.

“It’s kind of just a little tweak, after I scored in the Islanders’ game I kind of hit the boards funny and it’s been affecting my skating a little bit. But it’s feeling pretty good and I’m just taking it minute by minute.”

With speed being such an important part of Athanasiou’s game, if he can’t take an explosive first couple steps, it affects and derails his game.

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So, any sort of pulls or pains like he’s been bothered with the first days and week of training camp and the preseason, are a factor.

But Athanasiou is confident he can recover the conditioning and timing in his performance quickly.

“That always comes,” Athanasiou said. “Everyone who plays this game has been playing this game for a long time. I’m not too worried about that. It’s feeling how it is when I skate and being able to have that explosiveness in the first three steps and have it in the back of my head I’m feeling good.”

Back to work

The Wings were one of the last two teams — the other being the Los Angeles Kings — Saturday who finally began their season.

Blashill liked the opportunity to have four full practices this week after not getting much time to work with his NHL roster exclusively during training camp or the exhibition season.

With the Red Wings playing nine preseason game, there was little time to have quality practice time.

But the week with no games heading into Saturday was beginning to have an adverse affect.

“This might have been a little long,” Blashill said. “You get to where you just to want to play, and our guys have felt that way. I didn’t think our energy was great Thursday, but it was much better Friday and this morning and our guys are excited to play.”

Now, the Wings go from not playing at all to playing on consecutive nights and three games in four nights, overall, which presents a different type of difficulty for players who aren’t quite used to playing that much, that quickly.

“My job in practice is getting them ready for this and we’ve had a hard camp,” Blashill said. “My job is to make sure we’re ready for this and that’s why we wanted it to be hard and, hopefully, it helped handle the battle tested part of it.”

Need for defense

If the Wings are to become a competitive playoff team, overall team defense has to be better compared to the last few seasons.

“It’s the easiest way to cut down (goal differential), it’s really hard to magically get 70 more goals,” Blashill said. “I don’t think there’s a team in the world that can’t get better defensively, so that’s the easiest way to do it.

“Our guys understand. One of the biggest parts of it is just the mindset of understanding that’s how you’re going to win. Ultimately, when you play really good defense, you probably have the puck way more. The best way to play defense is have the puck and play in the other team’s end. We’re going to have to do that for sure.”

ted.kulfan@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @tkulfan

Dallas Stars at Red Wings

Faceoff: 7 p.m., Sunday

TV/radio: FSD/97.1

Outlook: Dallas will be playing its third game in four nights to open the regular season…LW Jamie Benn, C Joe Pavelski, C Tyler Seguin, and D Miro Heiskanen highlight a talented, deep roster.

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