He played 8:34 in Boston on Dec. 23.
"I don't know if you can be surprised," Athanasiou said. "The way the game unfolds, he's got to make coaching adjustments and line matchups. That's just the way some games go.
"No one likes to sit. It's just the way it is. We got the two points. It's the biggest thing."
Red Wings coach Jeff Blashill said he spoke to Athanasiou briefly about it but didn't belabor the issue.
"I talked to him real quick, just said I didn't think he was going last night. I thought other guys were going and he's going to get a chance to get going in Tampa," Blashill said. "He's back on that line with (Dylan) Larkin, he's going to get a chance to get going. Again, that game became a three-line game dictated more by them than by us. They wanted to play three lines. They obviously have three real elite lines and I got to make quick decisions in the game.
"I made the decision I liked the other guys that were going and went with those matches. That's the way it goes sometimes. I actually thought the few shifts he had after I moved the lines around, he played good, but at that point, I was going with the match and in the end, we won. But I also told him he's going to go right back on the horse here against Tampa. We need him."
In his last nine games, Athanasiou has one point--an assist on Tomas Tatar's second-period goal in the 5-4 overtime win in Washington on Sunday.
"I think I'm getting some chances. I missed some breakaways," Athanasiou said. "I could have got one there on my first couple shifts yesterday. I'm not too worried. The chances will come."
Athanasiou went through a stretch last month where he was playing around 20 minutes per game and getting anywhere from three to eight shots.
"I think that just comes with how much you're out there," Athanasiou said. "You get out there a lot, you're obviously you're going to generate some more numbers, as opposed to when you get out there a little bit less, it's tougher."
During Wednesday's practice at the BELFOR Training Center, Athanasiou was back on Larkin's wing along with Tatar.
GOOD LUCK IN TAMPA: The Red Wings know they have struggled against the Tampa Bay Lightning, particularly in Tampa.
The Wings are looking to snap a 10-game losing streak in Tampa Thursday night.
"The results have been bad from the win-loss standpoint without question," Blashill said. "I actually think there's been lots of moments we've played really, really well against them but we got to find a way to win. We got to take the things that we've done well and we've got to eliminate the areas where they've exploited us.
"I thought the first period the last time we played them here, they took advantage of us on their rush offense and their O-zone offense a little bit, and I thought the rest of the game we played well. They're going to create chances, I watched them against Toronto the other night, they can create tons of chances. So we got to try to get them on their heels and make them defend as much as possible. When they have the puck, they're a real good team."
With a mostly healthy group this year, the Lightning have racked up a league-leading 79 points in 57 games, including a league-best 36 wins in regulation or overtime.
The last time the Red Wings beat the Lightning was on April 17, 2016, a 2-0 win in Game 3 of the first round of the playoffs.
The last time the Wings beat the Lightning in the regular season was a 2-1 victory on Nov. 3, 2015 at Joe Louis Arena.
"Last few games, I think we play really well," Tatar said. "We just have to continue. Last game against Tampa, we deserved better result than it actually was. We played a good game. We just have to be good on the forecheck, not commit any turnovers, shoot the puck and get ready for the game."
HAPPY FOR MURSAK: Team USA's men's Olympic hockey team fell to Team Slovenia, 3-2 in overtime, in its opening game at the Winter Olympics.
Wings fans might recognize the name of the player that scored the tying goal with 1:37 left in regulation and the game-winner 38 seconds into overtime -- Jan Mursak.
"I was disappointed for the U.S. team," Blashill said. "I watched early before I left, they were playing well. But I love Jan. Jan's a great, great guy. He was great for me in Grand Rapids, I had him here in Detroit as an assistant, too. He plays hard. It doesn't surprise me he's having success and having success in that tournament."
With the NHL opting out of the PyeongChang games, it opened the door for other players to get a chance to suit up for their countries.
"It's great. There's positives either way," Blashill said. "You can debate what you prefer and I get that. But like I said yesterday, today's a moment for Jan Mursak, who might not have gotten that moment. For a guy like that I know real well and I know another guy that played for me in Chad Billins. For him to put the U.S. jersey on in the Olympics is an awesome thing. There's great things going on there. It'll be a fun tournament to watch."
TATAR GETS TO GLOAT: Tatar was in a good mood Wednesday morning after seeing Team Slovakia upset the Olympic Athletes of Russia, 3-2, in its opening game at the Olympics.
"It was pretty cool to see Slovakia beat Russia in the Olympics," Tatar said. "It's a huge tournament, so good for them. Good start for us for sure.
"It's huge, just from what I open social media, it was all over. It's a big win for sure. Memorable. It's an open tournament. It's going to be interesting to see who's going to win."
Tatar is still a little miffed that he was denied the chance to play for Slovakia in the Olympics, having won a silver medal with Team Slovakia in the 2012 world championships in Finland and playing for his country in the 2016 World Cup in Toronto.
"I'm pretty upset," Tatar said. "You obviously would like to play in Olympics. It's such an honor to be picked. I felt a little worse yesterday, but today when they won, I feel pretty good about it."