Red Wings optimistic Andreas Athanasiou close to ending prolonged slump

Ted Kulfan
The Detroit News
Red Wings forward Andreas Athanasiou

Detroit — The Red Wings insist Andreas Athanasiou is close to ending his season-opening goal-scoring drought, and about to begin scoring those jaw-dropping, edge-of-your-seat, breakaway goals that make every nightly top-10 highlight show.

Exhibit A that Athanasiou is soon going to end this 11-game drought without a goal (with only three assists) is Tuesday’s 3-1 victory over Edmonton.

“He played his best game, he was flying,” said forward Dylan Larkin, who himself was pretty dangerous on the ice against the Oilers. “He was, I think, the fastest player out there. He looked dangerous every time he was on the ice, and he played the right way.

“It’s coming for him.”

And given it’s a streaky goal-scorer like Athanasiou, once he scores that first one, there’s likely — at least the Red Wings hope — more to come in quick fashion.

“Once he gts one, it comes in bunches,” Larkin said. “He sticks with it, he plays that way every night, he’s going to score a lot of goals.”

The Wings, and Athanasiou, certainly hope so.

Entering this season, the Wings were expecting the Larkin line with Tyler Bertuzzi and Anthony Mantha to produce a lot of offense and the trio have done their share.

The Wings also were expecting Athanasiou — who scored a career-high 30 goals last season — to be the trigger on a evolving second line, creating offensive chances with that blinding speed and playmaking ability of his.

The chances have pretty much been there consistently, especially lately.

But just converting those opportunities into goals — that’s been the problem.

‘He’s had I don’t know how many breakaways and he hasn’t scored, that’s not going to continue,” coach Jeff Blashill said. “You guys know that.

“He just has to stay with it. His skating in the first (period Tuesday) was excellent. He was strong on the puck, he made things happen. When he’s skating like that, he’s a real good player and he was certainly all game.”

Athanasiou was nursing an undisclosed injury most of training camp, then the exhibition season, and missed the first two games of the regular season. It may have impacted his skating early on, but in recent games, there’s no question Athanasiou has been able to break free, accelerate, and create scoring chances instantly.

“He’s the type of player that gets some real big-time chances, out of nowhere at times, with his speed,” Blashill said. “He’s had those chances. He’s getting chances he has previously scored on. Right now they’re not going in.

“He just has to stay with it.”

Personnel moves

The Wings sent forward Givani Smith back to Grand Rapids on Wednesday, after shuttling Evgeny Svechnikov to the Griffins the day before.

The moves were necessary with Adam Erne re-entering the lineup Tuesday, and the acquisition of Brendan Perlini, who is expected to play Friday in Carolina.

The timing is unfortunate for Svechnikov, who was looking forward to playing against his younger brother Andrei, who is starring with the Hurricanes.

It would have been the first time the two brothers had faced each other in the NHL.

But the Wings are doing what is best for Svechnikov’s development.

“I know he’d like to play against his brother,” Blashill said. “They are extremely close. Evgeny is as good a person as I’ve been around, an excellent human being, and certainly you’d love to make that happen. But we’re in the business of trying to win hockey games and trying to do what is best for the individual players.”

After missing all of last season due to knee surgery, Svechnikov continues to knock some of the rust off of not playing for so long.

“He needs to go down and play have more than seven to 12 minutes (playing time) that he’s getting here,” Blashill said. “He’s a great kid, he works hard and he wants to be a player extremely bad. He works at it.

“He needs to go down and pay attention to details in your game and find a way to have an impact shift in and shift out.”

More: Grand Rapids report: Griffins off to best start in 11 years

Nemeth noticed

For the Wings, it was good to see defensive defenseman Patrik Nemeth get recognized after scoring the eventual winning goal against Edmonton.

It was Nemeth’s first goal with the Wings, and fifth career goal. He hadn’t scored a goal since Nov. 21, 2018 in Los Angeles, a span of 71 games.

But the Wings aren’t looking for offense from Nemeth. What they want is top-flight defense, and they’ve been getting it from last summer’s free agent signing.

“Patrik is really good at what he does,” Blashill said. “Patrik is really good at what he’s good at, and it’s a lesson for a lot of guys in the league. Everybody comes in and most of them are offensive and they want to be whatever.

“He’s a great defender and he knows what he is and he plays within himself. He blocks shots, moves the puck up, he does all those thing real well.

“He’s a real team player and all he wants to do is win hockey games.”

Twitter: @tkulfan