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Notes: Athanasiou returns after missing 13 games

Nielsen takes part in optional morning skate, remains day-to-day

by Dana Wakiji @Dwakiji / DetroitRedWings.com

DETROIT -- Although Andreas Athanasiou was not having the sort of season he had hoped for before he was injured, he can still finish strong.

Athanasiou has missed the last 13 games with a lower-body injury but is ready to return tonight as the Red Wings host the Philadelphia Flyers at Little Caesars Arena.

"It's never fun being out," Athanasiou said after taking part in the optional morning skate. "Just getting a chance to come back and play is a great feeling and definitely excited for it."

Tweet from @DetroitRedWings: Athanasiou set to make his return to the lineup tonight vs. Philly. pic.twitter.com/sxPXe5lm88

Although it seemed that the All-Star break and bye came at a bad time for Athanasiou, perhaps it allowed him to completely heal before returning.

"Obviously, at the start I had to let the bone heal, so it was rest and do a little bit of treatment on it, a little ice, that's it," Athanasiou said. "And then I started skating and once it started feeling good and I felt that I had my step back, I felt comfortable playing."

Wings coach Jeff Blashill said Sunday that the style of skater that Athanasiou is, the more likely he'll be able to get up to speed quickly compared to others.

"I feel like anytime I've come back from injury, anytime anybody comes back from injury, it's a little bit of a tough start to go," Athanasiou said. "But for me, just skating being my style of game, it kind of helps me climb back in a little smoother."

Tweet from @DetroitRedWings: "Want to go out there and give them a good hard battle and hopefully come out on top."Athanasiou | #PHIvsDET pic.twitter.com/eHTAWR5sB4

Now that Filip Zadina is out for the next two to three weeks with a lower-body injury, the Wings are even more relieved to have Athanasiou back.

"Obviously, he's a guy who can self-create," Blashill said. "There's not tons of guys in the league that can self-create on their own. You got to be extremely fast and make plays at high speed and he's one of the few guys in the league that can do those things. He's obviously really, really powerful and really, really fast and can make plays at high speeds.

"The thing that's hard when you've had a long layoff, it's hard to get back and get going at full-go right away. But the one good thing with Double-A is he skates so well that it's a little bit easier for somebody that's as athletic and fast as he is. Obviously, we'd like to just be adding, not have lost Zadina, and then you're adding more depth and scoring prowess to your lineup. But having lost Zadina it's certainly nice to just put Double-A in those same spots."

Tweet from @DetroitRedWings: "He's obviously really really powerful, really really fast and can make plays at high speeds."Blashill on Athanasiou | #PHIvsDET pic.twitter.com/zpX5j0JSmX

Despite missing a total of 17 games this season, Athanasiou is still sixth in team scoring with 19 points (5-14-19).

It's unlikely that he could reach 30 goals like he did last season but when he gets hot, he can score in bunches.

"It's the way it is," Athanasiou said. "I've had my chances, had my fair bit of them. Unfortunately, they haven't gone in in the past, so hopefully start off on a good foot tonight."

Tweet from @DetroitRedWings: 🎩������🎩������🎩Check it out! The first 5,000 fans at @LCArena_Detroit for tonight���s #PHIvsDET matchup will go home with a #RedWings fur hat, courtesy of @MotorCityCasino! 🙌 pic.twitter.com/UUenVqUL61

TOUGH OPPONENT IN PHILLY: The Wings have had well-documented difficulties winning in Philadelphia but beating them at home has been a challenge, too.

The Wings have lost four straight to the Flyers, including their 6-1 loss Nov. 29 at Wells Fargo Center.

"They're a good team," Athanasiou said. "They're pushing for a playoff spot so they're going to be playing good hockey. We know that. Every game down the stretch is so important for every team. You want to go out there and give them a good, hard battle and hopefully come out on top."

At 28-17-5 and 63 points, the Flyers are currently third in the Eastern Conference wild-card race behind the New York Islanders (29-15-6, 64 points) and the Carolina Hurricanes (30-19-3, 63 points).

But they're only two points behind the third team in the Metropolitan Division, the Columbus Blue Jackets, who are 28-16-9 with 65 points.

The Flyers are only allowing opponents 29.1 shots per game, third-lowest in the league.

"Outside of looking at them statistically, I don't think when you watch them play you feel like they're suffocating, they're not somebody like that," Blashill said. "I think they probably have the puck a lot, that keeps you from the shots. They're very very good on the transition, especially from their own end, so that would be one area where teams would be a little gun-shy? They front pucks well, that's another areas where you don't get as many pucks to the cage, even though you might be shooting them, and then they are very good in transition coming out of their end. It happens fast.

"That's what happened in the game there, where we actually played a great first period. I remember the breakaway goal against, it happens fast. You got to be really good about when you're putting pucks to the net you're putting them in there hard. You can't lay anything soft in there at all because they're just going to front it and their wingers are going to fly out of the zone, they're not trying to stay in the zone. If you don't have good opportunities you may have to rim it to the bottom or you might have to choose another play. We always talk about having a third circle guy between the two big circles above the hashmarks, so that guy's in position to get rebounds when they are fronted, so they're not able to just front and send it back the other way."

One reason the Flyers have the puck a lot is they have two of the top face-off centers in Claude Giroux, who is at 59.1 percent, and Sean Couturier, who is at 58.5 percent.

The Wings' top face-off center is Luke Glendening at 55.7 percent, followed by Dylan Larkin at 52.2 percent.

Tweet from @DetroitRedWings: Mantha gettin��� some more reps in with the team this morning. pic.twitter.com/QOxfLPL6JB

NIELSEN SKATES: It was a welcome sight to see center Frans Nielsen on the ice during the team's optional morning skate Monday.

Nielsen missed Saturday's game against the New York Rangers with an upper-body injury.

"I feel better every day," Nielsen said. "It was good to just be out there. I think it's still just day by day, see how I feel every day when I wake up."

Nielsen couldn't quite pinpoint what happened in Friday's game in New York.

"We don't know. It's just a little setback," he said. "I don't remember anything happening in New York the other day. Just a setback."

The Wings are among the league leaders with 222 man-games lost to injury and have not been able to have the entire team healthy this season.

"It's crazy," Nielsen said. "It's definitely something we gotta figure out and find a way to stay healthy. Every team goes through this to some degree. It's tough when it's this many to get any consistency in the team when new players are coming in and out all the time."

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