By: Will Burchfield
Andreas Athanasiou chuckled bashfully, knowing exactly where the question was headed. He’s answered it before; surely he’ll answer it again.
Jeff Blashill confined Athanasiou to the bench for most of the third period in Detroit’s 2-1 win over the Ducks on Tuesday night, the second time Athanasiou has received that treatment in the past week. It’s been a regular occurrence for the 23-year-old in the past two seasons.
“He seems to do this…,” a reporter began, referring to Blashill, and Athanasiou smiled in acknowledgement and ran a weary hand through his hair. What else is there to say?
“There’s nothing you can do about it. You just have to be ready with whatever you get,” said Athanasiou.
Every player on the Red Wings sees swings in ice time — yes, even Henrik Zetterberg — but none to the wild degree of Athanasiou. Among the team’s top-nine forwards, a role Athanasiou was assured of this season by general manager Ken Holland, only two players have been held to under 13 minutes in a game more than twice. One is Darren Helm, who’s received that fate four times.
Athanasiou, the other, has experienced it eight times (excluding his belated season debut.)
It’s enough to wonder if the speedy forward understands what Blashill wants out of him on a game-by-game basis.
“Yeah, I think it’s pretty clear,” Athanasiou said on Wednesday. “I just have to do what I can. I know my game, so it’s kind of just doing that and trying to produce, I guess.”
Blashill, asked if he believes his message is getting through to Athanasiou, said, “I think so, and I think he’s been real receptive here in the last month. Understand that whenever I’ve tried to talk to him, whether it’s criticism or it’s positive, it’s trying to get him to be the best player that he can be and help our team win.”
Athanasiou’s third-period benching on Tuesday, Blashill said, was mostly a product of matchups. The big, physical Ducks were rolling three lines, and Blashill wanted to counter with certain players. Athanasiou, who had been dropped to the fourth line earlier in the game, wasn’t one of them. On Wednesday he said he understood.
But Blashill generally shaves Athanasiou’s ice time because the coach flatly isn’t pleased with his play. It can be related to drifting or losing one-on-one battles or making careless plays with the puck. But it almost always boils down to effort. It’s in these cases that…