As the Detroit Red Wings prepare to face off against the Winnipeg Jets this evening (8:00 PM EST on FSD Plus/TSN3/97.1 FM), DetroitRedWings.com’s Dana Wakiji took note of Andreas Athanasiou’s flourishing offense…
Athanasiou, 23, has matched his point total of 29 from last season in 12 fewer games this campaign. The fast forward had 18 goals and 11 assists in 64 games last year and has 13 goals and 16 assists in 52 games this year.
“I think Andreas has improved his game from a year ago in a consistency perspective of winning puck battles and winning puck races and those types of things,” Wings coach Jeff Blashill said. “Any player that wants to go from being a good player to a great player has to show up every single night and compete like crazy. That’s what all the great players in the league do. Certainly that’s where with a guy like Andreas or any of our young players, that’s where our growth will come from. Making sure it’s an every shift, every game thing.”
Blashill had promised Athanasiou a greater role with the team when he finally signed a new contract in late October.
“I think I’m just playing my game and I think a little bit more opportunity to produce a little more,” Athanasiou said. “I think it just comes with that.”
And Wakiji also noted that the Jets present a stiff challenge for the Red Wings:
The Winnipeg Jets are in the middle of an excellent season, sitting in second place in the Central Division with 83 points behind division-leading Nashville’s 89. The Jets are third behind the Golden Knights (87 points) in the Western Conference. Winnipeg has also had a lot of success at home with the league’s third-best home record at 23-7-2, behind Vegas’ 24-6-2 and Minnesota’s 22-5-6.
“They’ve obviously got a really good team, that’s why their record is where it’s at,” Blashill said. “I thought even the game that we played them at home, I didn’t think the score indicated the game. I thought it was a much closer game. I thought we played very well, but I thought it was a much closer game. Connor Hellebuyck’s had a hell of a year. I had him at the world championships last year and he went to work this summer from what I understand and really put tons of work in. He’s had a heck of a year.
“They have some big, fast forwards. I think it’s probably the best combination of size and speed in the league. And tons of depth up front. And then a real good D corps. It’s certainly a great challenge, but I’ve said lots, when we work and compete we’ll take on anybody.”
The Free Press’s Helene St. James asked the Wings about, well, soup:
Cleveland Cavaliers guard J.R. Smith was suspended for Thursday’s game between the Cavs and Philadelphia, ESPN reported, because Smith had thrown soup at assistant coach Damon Jones. Players were incredulous.
“No way,” Andreas Athanasiou said, laughing. Reports did not state what kind of soup Smith threw; Wings players revealed their choices.
“If I was going to throw soup, it would obviously have to be some sort of vegetable soup,” Athanasiou said, as he switched to a vegan diet last summer. His personal favorite (to eat) is his mom’s lentil soup.
Anthony Mantha said he’d throw chicken noodle soup because “that’s what we have every lunch.” If all soups were readily available, he’d throw tomato soup.
Niklas Kronwall also weighed in the matter.
“I love chicken soup but I think it’d work pretty good if you want to throw it at somebody,” he said. He’d least like to be a victim of someone throwing “tomato puree. I would think it stains pretty good.”
The suspension cost Smith $94,897.
“I hope it was worth it,” Mike Green said.
St. James also posted a soupy video…
The Game: The Winnipeg Jets will attempt to tighten the Central Division race when they host the Detroit Red Wings at Bell MTS Place on Friday.
The Jets, 5-2-0 in their past seven games, are in second place in the Central, six points behind the first-place Nashville Predators, who are idle Friday. Winnipeg, which has outscored its opponents 30-16 in its past six games, will be without defenseman Toby Enstrom, who will miss his second straight game with a lower-body injury. He is day to day.
Defenseman Mike Green, who missed seven games with a neck injury, will return for the Red Wings, 2-1-0 in their past three games after going 1-3-1 in their previous five games.
Goaltender Jimmy Howard is expected to start for Detroit, which is seven points behind the Columbus Blue Jackets for the second wild card into the Stanley Cup Playoffs from the Eastern Conference.
Players to watch: Red Wings forward Andreas Athanasiou has five points (three goals, two assists) in his past five games.
Jets forward Blake Wheeler has 15 points (four goals, 11 assists) in a nine-game point streak.
They said it: “We’ve done a good job all year of picking ourselves back up when we’ve been kicked a little bit. We’ve had some real tough losses. We’ve been in some really tight games. Haven’t won enough of them, that’s why we sit where we sit, but I think all year, we’ve continued to get back up, and I expect us to get back up tonight.” — Detroit Red Wings coach Jeff Blashill
“They’re going to come out hard, we’re going to come out hard. Playoff hockey is starting. It has started. No games are going to be easy, they haven’t been, that’s not going to change. They’re going to get harder and harder, and we’re ready for that.” — Jets forward Nikolaj Ehlers
WinnipegJets.com’s Mitchell Clinton filed a game preview…
The Jets (37-17-9) have had two days of practice since dropping a 6-5 decision to the Nashville Predators on Tuesday.
That has offered plenty of time for Nikolaj Ehlers to get to know his new line mate, Paul Stastny.
“He’s a Manchester United fan, I don’t like that. I’m a Chelsea fan,” said Ehlers with a grin. “I think as a line we created some chemistry pretty quick. He’s an easy player to play with. There’s not much you need to do to be able to play with a guy like him, or need to change. He came in and worked hard, and played the right way… Now it’s just a matter of trying to continue that.”
The trio of Ehlers, Stastny, and Patrik Laine combined for two goals and six points Tuesday night, and head coach Paul Maurice feels there are things the young wingers can learn from the veteran Stastny. One of them, that doesn’t necessarily only apply to Ehlers and Laine, but to all young players, is what Maurice calls ‘offensive confidence.’
“There’s a patience to his game on where there’s offence, and where there’s not offence,” said Maurice. “The guy knows he’s going back on the ice so he doesn’t have to prove to anybody that he can do some certain offensive things. The young guys come in at times, because that’s what they’re selling to the team, they feel they have to show it every time. They’ve been able to do it in the past, or when they tried to make a play that was really not the right play to make, there was no cost to it. Here, there’s a cost. You throw it into the middle when there’s no place to put it, and you’ve got a real problem going the other way. The veteran guys, they learn when to do it, and when not to do it. A big part of offensive confidence is the plays you don’t feel you have to make, that you don’t force. He’s got that in his game.”
Tonight’s game is stop number three on a five-game road trip for the Red Wings, who are coming off a 2-1 loss to the St. Louis Blues on Wednesday.
The Detroit roster could get a bit of a boost, as defenceman Mike Green is expected to return to action after missing seven games with a neck injury.
“We know we need to be hard on their D and make them turn, and put heavy pressure on them in their zone. We know their D is going to be active, every team is,” said Copp. “Obviously he’s probably the most active one in that group, and it’ll help their power play a little bit. So maybe a little bit of an adjustment on the PK, but other than that, it’s the same game for us.”
The Jets posted a Game Day Preview video…
Connor Hellebuyck has grabbed the No. 1 position and run with it. He’ll be starting his 51st game tonight at home against Detroit.
The Jets aren’t expected to make any lineup changes, despite a loss in their last game. That means Paul Maurice will once again send out newly-acquired centre Paul Stastny between top goal scorers Patrik Laine and Nik Ehlers on one of the NHL’s top “third lines.”
The Jets head coach says he simply calls it “the Stastny line.”
“We’ll invest some time in the line to give it an opportunity to get comfortable,” Maurice said. “I’m going to leave them, unless I want to just see something else, to see another combination. Maybe in four or five games you might see a little more movement.”
Stastny played more than 14 minutes in his debut, Tuesday’s 6-5 loss to Nashville, scoring a goal at even strength and setting up Mark Scheifele for a power play marker.
Ehlers and Laine each had two points, as well. Maurice says Stastny, acquired in a trade with St. Louis, Monday, will eventually get work on the penalty kill, too.
The Jets trail first-place Nashville by six points in the Central Division, with Minnesota just four points back in third.
Detroit is seven points off the playoff line in the East.