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Notes: Early returns on AA-Nielsen-Vanek promising

Jared Coreau gets another start after shutout against Kings; Justin Abdelkader getting closer

by Dana Wakiji @Dwakiji /

SAN JOSE - The early returns on the Andreas Athanasiou-Frans Nielsen-Thomas Vanek line are promising.

The trio combined for three goals and three assists in the Red Wings' 4-0 victory over the Los Angeles Kings Thursday at the Staples Center.

On the first goal, Nielsen passed from behind the net to Vanek, who was stationed at the right doorstep.

"Only a few guys in this league who think that way and he's one of them," Vanek said after the team's morning skate at SAP Center. "It's something I would probably try and get yelled at for but it worked this time."

Said Nielsen: "It's not the kind of play you kind of talk about. But I think that's Thomas, he reads the game and he sees me going there and he kind of reads that it's probably going to come back. It just shows how smart he is."

Nielsen and Vanek were together for the 2013-14 season when Vanek joined the New York Islanders.

Blashill put them back together on the trip to Florida before Christmas.

"I've gotten along with Fransy since Day 1 I got traded to the Islanders and even when I left we stayed a little bit in touch and I was excited he signed here and that was a big reason," Vanek said.

Nielsen was also happy to be reunited with Vanek.

"I enjoy playing with him," Nielsen said. "I knew him a little bit from earlier so it wasn't too hard to kind of find a little chemistry together. But he's a smart player, he wants the puck and one of those players if you work to get open, he's going to get it back to you."

Wings coach Jeff Blashill said the two are also friends off the ice, which helps that chemistry.

"I think they're both really smart offensive players," Blashill said. "Vanek's offensive IQ is off the charts and Fransy's real good, too. When you have those types of players that think the game that way, guys that think the game that way want to play with other guys that think the game that way. The other thing is Double-A gives them a speed element, also. It looked like a good combination the other night."

Nielsen said the two veterans enjoyed playing with the lightning-quick Athanasiou.

"He for sure brings a lot of speed to our line," Nielsen said. "When Double-A's on his game, he's a really hard player to play against. He backs up Ds and I think it creates a lot of room for me and Vanek, especially gives Vanek an opportunity to make a lot of plays."

For Athanasiou, it's a chance to take his raw offensive ability and speed and learn to think the game the way that Nielsen and Vanek do.

"I think it's critically important that your veterans help out your young guys," Blashill said. "There's times where as a coaching staff maybe you're hard on the young guy and maybe the young guy might look for an easy out. If veterans reinforce some of the things they know are going to be critically important for him to have success, that's a positive thing. If they also help guide him through and pick him up at times where maybe young guys are down I think that's a positive thing. So when you can get some vets and young guys mixed in together it can be a positive."

Athanasiou is only 22 but Vanek already thinks very highly of him.

"To me, he's one of the best players," Vanek said. "He can't just show it once every while. That's what I told him. If you want to stay in, you got to do something different, and his difference is he can think the game at a high level. His speed separates himself from 90 percent of these guys in the league. Like I said before, as a team, as individuals, this is a game of confidence. If you can teach confidence and everyone feels good about their game you're going to be a good player and you're going to be a good team."

LINEUP FOR SHARKS: Blashill said Jared Coreau would start his second straight game after making 34 saves in a 4-0 victory over the Los Angeles Kings Thursday.

"Both guys played great," Blashill said. "I thought Pete was great against Anaheim, outstanding, actually. We didn't give up tons of shots, but we gave up too many chances in that game and I thought he was excellent. And obviously, Jared played very good against LA. Just given the result in LA I went with Jared again, but I really feel like both of them are in a good spot."

Blashill said the lineup would remain the same from the last game, meaning Tomas Jurco would be the lone healthy scratch.

Niklas Kronwall and Brendan Smith remain out with lower-body injuries.

ABDELKADER, GREEN: Both Justin Abdelkader and Mike Green participated in the morning skate Saturday in San Jose.

Blashill has said that Green might be able to return Tuesday in Chicago. Abdelkader said he hasn't ruled the Chicago game out.

Abdelkader plans to practice hard on Monday and then he, the training staff and coaches will decide whether he is ready to play against the Blackhawks.

BURNS LEADING: San Jose Sharks defenseman Brent Burns leads all defensemen with 15 goals and 37 points.

The 37 points lead the Sharks, ahead of Joe Pavelski's 35.

Montreal's Shea Weber is the only other defenseman with double-digit goals with 10.

Burns also leads the league, not just defensemen, in shots with 155, seven ahead of Washington Capitals forward Alex Ovechkin.

"He's a super-skilled player," Wings defenseman Nick Jensen said. "He's going to be tough to defend. It's kind of unpredictable what he can do. He's up at the point and then all of a sudden you look behind you and he's back-door, scoring a goal. I think you just got to have your head on a swivel and be really responsible as a unit of five, knowing where he is at all times. He's really good at scoring so we got to make sure we block shots and help the goaltender out."

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