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Notes: Wings focusing on better defense against gifted Panthers

Athanasiou still seeking first goal; Cholowski could draw back into lineup

by Dana Wakiji @Dwakiji / DetroitRedWings.com

SUNRISE -- The Red Wings have to be prepared for another challenge to their defense as they face the Florida Panthers.

In the Atlantic Division, only Montreal at 50 goals and Toronto at 49 have more than the Panthers' 47 goals.

The Wings are coming off a Friday night loss in which they gave up seven goals to the Carolina Hurricanes.

"We'll be tested tonight," Wings coach Jeff Blashill said. "They're a really good transition team, they stretch out of their zone well. Obviously with the (Aleksander) Barkov line they've got one of the better lines in the league in that group. I think overall we've done a pretty good job of limiting chances here over the last little bit. Last night the chances got up into the 19 range. If you keep it down to 10, that's a real low number. If you can keep it around 14, that's pretty good. We've been down in that range.

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"Last night it creeped up a little bit. Even then it wasn't a gross amount of chances for the number of goals that were given up. We just gotta make sure, last night was a little bit different, they're super hard around the net and they scored some of those dirty goals, but any way we shake it, we gotta play great D."

Darren Helm, who is a team-best plus-6, knows what is expected defensively.

"I think just execution," Helm said. "When we get pucks in our zone, we gotta make the hard plays, make sure they either get from the D to the forwards or to the D and out, off the glass, whatever it takes to get the puck out. Guys gotta be selling out, whether it's blocking shots or just finding ways to get the puck out."

Barkov is tied with Jonathan Huberdeau for the team lead in points with 15. For Barkov, 14 of those are assists while Huberdeau leads the team in goals with seven.

The Panthers will be without injured forwards Vincent Trocheck and Jayce Hawryluk and defenseman Mike Matheson.

The Panthers are also a little different this year in that they're coached by Joel Quenneville, the former Chicago Blackhawks coach.

"Obviously he's a great coach, certainly one of the best coaches in the league and one of the best of all-time," Blashill said. "Just look at his resume. He's a great person, too. They're a team that will have his identity as he continues to move through the season. Certainly D-zone coverage is different, very similar to what they did in Chicago. They front tons of pucks in the D-zone so in our O-zone we got to find a way to get pucks through to the cage. They block tons of shots, it's really, really difficult so that's going to be a big point of emphasis for us is finding ways to get pucks through."

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ATHANASIOU STILL WITHOUT A GOAL: Forward Andreas Athanasiou has now played 12 games this season and has not scored a goal, despite setting up five, including two beautiful assists on Anthony Mantha's goals Friday.

"I thought he was excellent and their line was excellent in the first and then I thought they weren't as good after that because they stopped probably playing the right way as a group, not just him," Blashill said. "They started hoping for offense and cheating for offense instead of playing great defensively and when you do that, you have the puck way more. I talked to each one of them today and I think they understand that. So it starts with doing it for 60 minutes. If you do it right over and over again, maybe you multiply those chances, instead of having three great chances, you get seven great chances or eight great chances. So that's No. 1.

"No. 2, I think finding ways to score dirty is also something him and I have talked about. He scores lots of real skilled goals. It's hard to keep the goal total up, sometimes they don't go in, that's why you have to find ways to score dirty as well. If you can do both, the dirty goals will always come on a consistent basis. So making sure that he finds ways to get to the cage and some of the things that are not normally necessarily his game, he's going to have to do."

Athanasiou, 25, can be a streaky scorer even though he had a career-high 30 goals last year.

Last season the swift forward had droughts of nine games without a goal from Dec. 4-20 and 11 games from Jan. 11-Feb. 10.

After that first dry spell, Athanasiou broke out of it with six goals in his next seven games. After the second dry patch, he had five goals in five games.

CHOLOWSKI POSSIBLY BACK IN: After the Wings beat the Edmonton Oilers, 3-1, at home Tuesday in Joe Hicketts' first game of the season, Blashill decided to stick with the young defenseman in Carolina.

That meant Dennis Cholowski was a healthy scratch for the second straight game.

But following a 7-3 loss, Cholowski could get another opportunity to get back in the lineup.

"Yeah, everything's on the table," Blashill said. "If Dennis goes back in, Dennis has to play great hockey. I know he's got better hockey in him, that's ultimately one of the reasons why we sat him was to have him take a look. Sometimes when that happens to you, you dig in and you're even better. I think ultimately Dennis can be more assertive all over the ice and just really take charge of the game.

"When I've seen him play his best, whether it goes back to the first development camp I ever watched him play, through different times of the preseason, the beginning of the season last year, preseason this year, he's taken charge all over the ice. That's what he's got to do if he gets in there."

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