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Notes: Mantha to miss at least four weeks

Athanasiou to skate with Larkin and Bertuzzi on Red Wings' top line

by Arthur J. Regner @ArthurJRegner / DetroitRedWings.com

DETROIT -- If the Red Wings were hoping to begin the New Year on a positive note, they'll have to do it without one of their most prolific goal scorers.

Right wing Anthony Mantha will be sidelined for at least four weeks, according to Wings coach Jeff Blashill, who informed the hockey press corps of Mantha's status after Detroit's high tempo practice Friday afternoon at the BELFOR Training Center inside Little Caesars Arena.

Tweet from @DetroitRedWings: Back ������ work. pic.twitter.com/DZwakY3PJ2

On Dec. 22, during the Wings' 4-1 loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs at Scotiabank Arena, Mantha got into a late third-period tussle with Toronto defenseman Jake Muzzin, who ended up body slamming Mantha to the ice.

Muzzin was penalized on the play, but the NHL decided not to take any other disciplinary action against Muzzin's WWE-inspired move.

"I expect Anthony to be out for a while here. What's a while? I'd probably say minimum four weeks," Blashill said. "He's got some what I'd call rib-type issues and things associated with that. It's not the head or anything like that. I don't think it's anything that's going to preclude him from having a long and real good career. It's just that he's going to be out here for a good stretch."

At the time of the injury, Mantha was playing in only his fourth game since returning from a knee injury, which caused him to miss eight games from Nov. 24-Dec. 12.

Yet, despite missing nine games thus far this season, Mantha is second in goals (12) and points (24) on the Wings and without the 6-foot-5, 234-pound power forward, Detroit will be hard pressed to replace his offensive prowess.

"Collectively," was how Blashill responded when asked how the Wings will replace Mantha's scoring. "I had (Andreas) Athanasiou on that line with (Tyler) Bertuzzi and (Dylan) Larkin today. I think Athanasiou certainly has the ability to play at a high level and I'm hoping he can step in and really play at a high level there, so we'll see."

Tweet from @DetroitRedWings: Blashill wraps up today's practice day before we head south for a back-to-back with Florida & Tampa. pic.twitter.com/CFBQ11X5qL

Athanasiou has been slowed by injuries this season, though he's missed only four games, but his point total (5-12-17) and his minus-36 are not the numbers he and the Wings envisioned.

Perhaps playing with Larkin and Betruzzi will get Athanasiou playing up to speed, but as Blashill alluded to, several Wings will need to increase their offensive production.

"Yeah, (Mantha's) definitely a key piece to the puzzle we're missing there. But you hear with every team, next-man-up mentality is kind of what we have to go with this year," said Robby Fabbri (9-8-17). "We can't solely rely on Mo to score the goals when he's in. I think guys are ready to step up and guys are ready to do their part to help turn this around."

Rookie Filip Zadina (3-5-8), who was officially recalled from Grand Rapids on Friday, could benefit greatly in Mantha's absence, but he knows it's about his play, regardless if Mantha is in the lineup or not.

"I played when he (Mantha) was here so I'm not taking it like an opportunity but I'm taking it like just keep working and stay here and earn a spot," Zadina said. "Obviously it's a huge loss for our team. When he was back, the team was probably more confident. Right now he's out for a bit so we need to play better hockey and play better as a team.

"It's about myself, it's about how I'm playing. If I'm playing good, I'll stay. If I'm not, they send me down. That's reality. It's what it is. I have to work hard and earn my spot here."

In 246 NHL games with the Wings, Mantha has 80 goals and 79 assists for 159 career points. He's minus-14, has notched 14 game-winning goals and has an average ice time of 17:01 per game.

Tweet from @DetroitRedWings: "I gotta work hard and earn my spot here."🗣���: Filip Zadina pic.twitter.com/M0RXpHVAxi

FABBRI ON BLUES' MIRACLE: Last year at this time Fabbri was a member of the St. Louis Blues. The Blues were mired near the bottom of the standings and eventually had the worst record in the NHL before they turned their season around and won the franchise's first Stanley Cup.

This season, Fabbri finds himself in a similar situation with the Red Wings.

Is there anything he learned last season with St. Louis which he can draw upon to help the Wings reverse their fortunes and could the Wings be this season's Blues?

"Last year was just a little bit of just getting a little mojo, getting that kind of vibe in the room once we started putting a few wins together and we had that nice 11-game winning streak there that kind of jumpstarted us right after the break," Fabbri recalled. "It's possible. I'm not going to say it's going to happen every year or something like that. It's definitely, the group here, to get some good outcomes and get a good stretch of games put together and we'll feel good about ourselves going game to game, anything can happen."

If the Wings are able to change the course of their season, Fabbri says it boils down to one word.

"Confidence," he said. "Confidence is huge. In game, getting a goal against or a bad call or something like that and it kind of brings the morale down is something that's been creeping in a little bit. But that's tough in our situation when it's been going that way.

"I think putting a good stretch of games together to get that confidence, for the guy next to you, start feeling ourselves a bit and just take that into every game."

Tweet from @DetroitRedWings: "Confidence is huge."🗣���: Robby Fabbri pic.twitter.com/vSrZaDnYAf

Blashill has addressed the Wings' fragility and lack of confidence several times this season and as much as he'd like to see the Wings draw confidence and inspiration from what the Blues accomplished last season, it could be just wishful thinking.

"Hard to say," Blashill replied about any correlation between the Wings and Blues. "I think for me personally, I'm more dealing with us and certainly there's experiences that all of us can draw upon. I don't know if any of us have been in this exact spot. At the end of the day there is no easy answer and there is no quick fix. It takes work and perseverance. That's just the reality of life.

"Whenever I talk to young people, I tell them the two biggest factors to success in life are inner drive and perseverance. Hard work and perseverance. We have to find a way to persevere and it's not easy. We've gotten kicked lots. A lot of that is self-inflicted. I get it. But we have to show up the next day and we (must) be ready to work and we have to work our way out of it.

"We've got to have a short memory, as I've spoken lots about, and we have to worry about a game in Florida and that's it. The one test that we have to pass better than we have recently is when we get scored on, we can't let it bother us as much as it does. When I watch our games back, we play good hockey until we're scored on and then we seem to play bad hockey as the game goes along. We're letting one goal feel like 10 and two goals feel like 20. That can't happen. That's easier said than done but it's the message I'll continue to give."

FILPPULA: OFFENSE STARTS WITH GOOD DEFENSE: Veteran center Valterri Filppula (3-11-14) understands that if the Wings are going to turn things around, it has to begin with team defense.

"We've been letting in too many goals. That's tough to win that way," Filppula said. "Even if you score some goals, it's going to be tough to score five, six goals. We've been letting in way too many goals. That's the main thing. If we start from there, I think everything in the offense is going to come from that.

"It's all five guys at the time they're on the ice, they have to play well defensively. A lot of times when you do that, you play better offensively as well. Take care of defense first and then the offense is going to come that way."

Signed as a free agent last July, Filppula admits the second time around as a Red Wing has been difficult compared to when he broke into the NHL with the Red Wings in 2006.

"It's always tough when you lose a lot. It's not fun," Filppula said. "But at the same time you want to learn from that, get better and build on something bad. It's tough for a while but when it gets better, it's even better. So hopefully we can slowly (start) turning the wheels the other way and start getting some wins.

"The first time around (in Detroit) we had a really good team. I think we have a good team now as well. We're just not playing as well as we could. That's the challenge right now. Definitely whenever it's not going how you want it, it's tough and it's taxing, especially mentally. You just got to try to work hard and try to get out of it."

Tweet from @DetroitRedWings: "All 5 guys on the ice gotta play well defensively. A lot of times when you do that, you play better offensively as well."🗣���: Val Filppula pic.twitter.com/CKccsCDEaf

Filppula has had some conversations with Red Wings general manager Steve Yzerman in which they've mostly talked about making the Wings a better team.

"I've talked to him a few times but nothing really more to say about that," Filppula said. "I think everybody wants to be better right now. Every team in this league is really close. You can tell by a lot of the games. If you play well, you've got a chance to win against anybody.

"It's not like the differences are that big. We're finding ourselves on the wrong side of things a lot right now, and hopefully, like everybody wants to change that."

BERNIER UPDATE: After updating the press on Mantha's status, Blashill said he thinks goalie Jonathan Bernier (sore groin), will be available for Sunday's game versus Tampa Bay. Jimmy Howard will start Saturday's game at Florida against the Panthers with Calvin Pickard serving as Howard's backup.

Sunday will be the first time the Wings have faced Tampa Bay and Saturday's clash with Florida will only be the second meeting of the season between the Wings and Panthers. Florida shut out the Wings on Nov. 2, 4-0 in Florida.

"We have Florida and then we have Tampa. We have to go play and play great hockey," Blashill said. "We didn't play good against Florida last game at all. I thought that was one of our worst games of the year. So we have to play better than that for sure. And we haven't played well against Tampa over the last number of years. We feel like we owe them both but they've got something to say about that, too."

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