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Notes: Ericsson skating but wearing full cage

Athanasiou in midst of a strange season

by Dana Wakiji @Dwakiji / DetroitRedWings.com

DETROIT -- Defenseman Jonathan Ericsson looked a little out of place during Monday's optional practice at the BELFOR Training Center.

That was because the veteran defenseman was wearing a full black cage while he skated.

Tweet from @Dwakiji: #RedWings Ericsson skating in a full cage. pic.twitter.com/SRC8BrmYru

During the first period of the game against the Los Angeles Kings on Dec. 15, Kings defenseman Drew Doughty's errant high stick caught Ericsson flush in the nose, causing a bad break.

"I got surgery a couple of days after the break," Ericsson said. "It was a tough week. I had this migraine constantly, so it was tough. I didn't move very much and when I took those things out of the nose, it felt immediately better. As of now, I've been able to move a little bit more. It's fun to be back on the ice again."

The things Ericsson had in his nose caused the migraine.

"They were blocking everything from basically draining. Everything was just stuck in the sinuses," Ericsson said. "I couldn't lay down. It would get even worse. So I couldn't sleep. I tried to sit up and sleep but it wasn't easy."

Tweet from @DetroitRedWings: Jonathan Ericsson speaks with media following Monday's practice at the BELFOR Training Center. #RedWings #LGRW pic.twitter.com/wmbwwl8TW7

Ericsson said he wasn't getting more than 10 minutes of sleep at a time because he couldn't lie down.

The Red Wings haven't yet set a target date for him to return to action.

"That was my first practice with the guys," Ericsson said. "I skated by myself here for a couple of days. I'll just take it day by day and see how it feels, try to get more movement every day."

Unfortunately, when Ericsson does come back, he'll have to wear the full cage for a period of time, something he hasn't done since he was 17 years old.

"I think, I don't want to say how long but I think it's going to be a while," Ericsson said. "I didn't think it was going to be that big of a difference. Obviously I've played without anything. I think just a shield is terrible. Going to a cage is even worse. Yeah, it's not fun."

The only silver lining in the situation was Ericsson was able to remain home during the holidays, even if he didn't feel quite up to snuff.

"I wasn't very up and running and playful as maybe normal, but it was nice to be home," he said.

ATHANASIOU'S SEASON: It has been a strange season for several Red Wings, including Andreas Athanasiou.

Athanasiou had a breakout year last season with career highs in goals with 30 and assists with 24 in 76 games.

This season, Athanasiou was hindered by a couple of injuries in training camp and the preseason, causing him to miss the first two regular-season games.

He also missed two games against Winnipeg, Dec. 10 in Winnipeg and Dec. 12 in Detroit.

Through his first 36 games of this season, Athanasiou has five goals, 14 assists and is minus-35.

Through his first 36 games last season, Athanasiou had 14 goals, 10 assists and was even.

"I think the beginning of the year, he was getting chances but it wasn't quite to the level it was that it was probably at the start of last year," Wings coach Jeff Blashill said. "He missed a lot of time in training camp with the injury. It's hard to miss time and get going at full speed. I think he's done a good job of choosing to make the right decisions from here in the last bit."

Tweet from @DetroitRedWings: Coach Blashill wraps up today's practice. Sharks in town for tomorrow's NYE matchup. #LGRW pic.twitter.com/gwcalCC7Md

With Anthony Mantha now out again for at least four weeks, Blashill moved Athanasiou up to play with Dylan Larkin and Tyler Bertuzzi.

Larkin and Athanasiou had a two-on-one chance Sunday night in Florida but were not able to get a shot on net.

"I'm not as worried about the production as I am about him making sure that his engagement level is really high, his competition level is really high and when it is, he's a really good player," Blashill said. "That doesn't mean you're always going to produce but I think you create chances. Certainly, in Florida, I thought that line was excellent. I didn't think they were as good last night.

"They got to find a way to be good every night. That's what you have to be when you're a top line. You're relied on every night. They're given lots of minutes and if you're given lots of minutes, you have a lot of responsibility and you have to find a way to be successful."

Larkin played 21:56, Bertuzzi played 20:29 and Athanasiou played 20:14 against the Lightning.

Athanasiou did record an assist on the Wings' only goal, scored by Robby Fabbri.

Tweet from @DetroitRedWings: Nice little tip from Robby. 🙌@DTE_Energy | #LGRW pic.twitter.com/rEj3XuZlNt

That was when Blashill decided to put Athanasiou out at center, which is Athanasiou's natural position.

"So I have used him at center at different times," Blashill said. "He can be a really good center, when he's engaged defensively, he can be a really good center. Is it something I've thought about? At different times, probably more in-game stuff that you guys might not see but I actually have done it and may continue to do it."

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