Athanasiou returns to Red Wings practice, hopes to finish season strong

Ted Kulfan
The Detroit News

New York — In a season in which there have been few of them, this was a good day for Andreas Athanasiou.

Recovered from whatever undisclosed injury kept him out since Dec. 29, Athanasiou was back on the ice for Thursday’s practice at Madison Square Garden, the Wings’ first since ending their week-long All-Star Game/bye break.

After he scored 30 goals last season, there was much anticipation and expectation for Andreas Athanasiou heading into this season.

“Anytime you’re out for a period of time, and you get a chance to get back and play with the boys, it’s always fun to be out there with them,” Athanasiou said.

Athanasiou took part in all the drills and didn’t appear to have any restrictions.

Still, coach Jeff Blashill said Athanasiou would not be in the lineup for games against the New York Rangers Friday and Saturday, the latter at Little Caesars Arena. But Monday’s game against Philadelphia appeared a strong possibility.

“The one thing about Andreas, he’s a real good skater, so it won’t take him much to get back and feeling good and getting going,” Blashill said.

After he scored 30 goals last season, there was much anticipation and expectation for Athanasiou heading into this season.

Athanasiou is a restricted free agent after this season, so there was the possibility of a big-money contract if there was to be another 30-goal (or more) season.

But just as it’s been a miserable season for the Red Wings’ collectively, Athanasiou has struggled mightily.

He has five goals and 19 points through 36 games, with a ghastly minus-35 plus-minus rating.

Time spent out of the lineup because of injury has only compounded the frustration.

“Right now I’m just trying to get back on the ice, and at this point right now, obviously we know where we are (in the standings),” Athanasiou said. “I just want to come back and play hockey with my teammates, play some good hockey, and just be ready once this injury heels.

“It happens, it’s part of the business, part of the job, so it’s about staying focused and working through it and just trying to become better.”

Speculation has been building that general manager Steve Yzerman might dangle Athanasiou before the February 24 trade deadline.

There aren’t many Red Wings teams might be interested in acquiring before the deadline, but Athanasiou might be one, because of his age (25), goal-scoring ability and potential going forward.

But a strong push before the deadline would be needed from Athanasiou, showing he is healthy and still capable of scoring goals.

If the Wings don’t trade Athanasiou before the deadline, it’s more likely they could deal him around the Entry Draft in June, again in an effort to acquire draft picks or a comparable young veteran.

Blashill sees these final two months of the season, or 31 games as an opportunity for the Wings, and Athanasiou, to finish the season strongly.

“There’s a lot of games left,” Blashill said. “You look at what your challenges are ahead of you, it’s the same we have as a team. Let’s do everything we can, and when he gets back, to have a great first game and move on from there.”

Eventful break

Forward Tyler Bertuzzi had a memorable All-Star/bye break.

Bertuzzi was the Wings’ representative in Saturday’s game, his first All-Star appearance, and had a goal and four assists during the two 3-on-3 games, with the Atlantic Division losing in the final to the Pacific Division.

Bertuzzi also distinguished himself during the skills portion of the weekend.

“I was kind of nervous going in, I didn’t know what to expect, but it went well,” Bertuzzi said of the All-Star festivities. “I didn’t really know many guys going in. I met a few guys and that made it more comfortable, knowing some guys, getting to know some of them, and it went smooth.”

Bertuzzi enjoyed the skills competition and game itself.

“I was kind of nervous in the skills competition, but the game, it was just like any other game,” Bertuzzi said. “It was a lot of fun, just a real good experience for me.”

Also fun for Bertuzzi’s father and brother, who joined Bertuzzi for the weekend.

“They had a blast,” Bertuzzi said, noting his teenage brother Evan had a particularly memorable time. “Seeing all those guys (All-Stars) around the hotel, and being a hockey fan, seeing all those good players surrounding him, I was happy I was able to share it with him.”

But the best was yet to come.

Bertuzzi headed to Miami after the game, and got engaged to his girlfriend Ashley.

“It was a good week,” Bertuzzi said.

Ice chips

The Red Wings recalled recalled defenseman Dennis Cholowski and forwards Givani Smith and Filip Zadina from Grand Rapids. All of them played for the Griffins last weekend during the NHL break.

… Blashill said goaltender Jonathan Bernier (lower body) wouldn’t be ready for Friday’s game, but wouldn’t rule Bernier out for Saturday’s game against the Rangers.

… Forward Frans Nielsen didn’t play in the final game before the break, but Blashill was optimistic Nielsen would be ready for Friday.

… The Wings and Rangers are in the same boat, having not played in a week. Blashill does not want his team to play “loose”.

“The games coming out of these breaks are generally loose,” Blashill said. “We don’t want to play loose. We can’t afford to play loose. We have to play tight as a group. We’re going to have to try to get as tight as we can be, as quick as we can.

“But we’re all in the exact same boat.”

Red Wings at Rangers

Faceoff: 7 p.m. Friday, Madison Square Garden

TV/radio: FSD Plus/97.1 FM

Outlook: The Rangers (23-21-4) have fallen out of the playoff picture after going 4-6-0 in their last 10. … LW Artemi Panarin (26 goals, 68 points) has been an outstanding free agent signing, but G Henrik Lundqvist (9-10-3, 3.18 GAA, .907 SVS) has been disappointing this season.

Twitter: @tkulfan