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Notes: Athanasiou enjoys playing center

Mrazek set to get another start in Calgary

by Dana Wakiji @Dwakiji /

VANCOUVER - Andreas Athanasiou feels home at center.

It's Athanasiou's natural position but after he missed training camp and the preseason, Wings coach Jeff Blashill put him on Dylan Larkin's wing along with Anthony Mantha.

On the road, Blashill has tried to change things up a bit in order to match up with some of the opponent's lines so he has shifted Athanasiou back to center at times.

"The difference between center and wing for him is he's a guy who skates when he gets the puck," Blashill said. "He doesn't have the same necessary habit to skate without the puck. (Darren) Helmer's really learned as a winger how to skate to open space without the puck. AA kind of waits until he gets the puck. Well, it's kind of hard to get it on the wing as much. You get it way more at center. I just think getting him in the middle of the ice where he can get the puck and attack up the ice at speed probably is using his best attributes."

Everyone knows about Athanasiou's speed, which he feels he can really unleash at center.

"I think you can skate a little more," Athanasiou said. "In the D zone you're a little more active, you can come under the puck. I can carry a lot of speed, come under it and carry it up the ice.

"I'm pretty comfortable there. It's a lot of fun playing center."

Athanasiou said he's also comfortable having Martin Frk on his wing, something that he had back in his days in Grand Rapids.

"I played with Frky before and I think we had some good chemistry," Athanasiou said. "We know where we are on the ice and did a good job finding each other. He has a lot of skill to his game, he's very comfortable making some passes out there. He's always looking for me in stride, so he's definitely a lot of fun to play with."

Athanasiou did not have the benefit of playing in the preseason to get used to the new crackdown on face-offs.

"I think it's been OK," Athanasiou said. "I think I'm still getting a little used to it. I think I like the new face-off rule, the way it gears more toward how I take face-offs. It adds a little more quickness to the face-off battle. I think for me, once I get the hang of it and I get more reps, it should be fine."

Although Athanasiou might start the game at center, that doesn't mean he will be there the entire game.

"I'll put him at center for a bit, then I might play him on wing with somebody," Blashill said. "It just gives me a chance to kind of play with everybody's lines a little bit. He's been a go-to guy four on four in general, and their power play group is the one that's started here lately because they've been the one scoring, so that gives you more minutes.

"I'd say as I've looked at our team from the beginning of the year to now, I see way (more) even minutes than at the beginning of the year. I think at the beginning of the year. the fourth line was getting 5-8 minutes. Now everybody is in that 14-17-minute range. Where you're at just depends on your play on a given night. He's just like everyone else. The more accountable they are defensively, the more trust they have from the coach and the more they're gonna play."

Athanasiou remained in good shape while he was away from the team, so his transition back since his first game Oct. 26 has been fairly smooth.

"I felt good," Athanasiou said. "It's still getting better with every game and every practice, still kind of getting the legs under me and just getting back into that game speed. But I feel good out there and I think it's just going to get better."

WILSON MISSES PRACTICE: While the Red Wings were on the ice, forward Scott Wilson was with Danny DeKeyser working out off-ice.

Blashill said that Wilson had a tweak in his lower body and is questionable for Thursday night's game in Calgary.

He said Wilson is day to day.

Wilson had two hits in 8:36 in Monday night's 3-2 victory in Vancouver.

"Scott's been really good," Blashill said. "He's done a good job and as he's gotten more ice time he's just another good, reliable player that can play on different lines. He can forecheck and give you net presence, has skill to make plays. Just another good player that I think helps our lineup."

MRAZEK GOES AGAIN: Goaltender Petr Mrazek has not played a lot this season as Jimmy Howard has gotten the bulk of the starts.

But Mrazek made 36 saves in a 4-0 shutout of the Edmonton Oilers Sunday, so he will play again in Calgary.

"We'll take it game by game," Blashill said. "I'm not getting ahead of myself. It doesn't make any sense. What I've said from the beginning of the year is we've got two goaltenders that I think can be elite. We're going to need elite goaltending and that's played true so far. Part of elite goaltending is playing good team defense and I think we've done a good job of that. But I think both of them have been excellent.

"I think Petr's put tons of work in and had a great game the other night. I don't like to use the word deserved, but he earned an opportunity to start tomorrow night and then we'll keep going from there."

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