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Notes: Wings need to force Lightning to play defense

Players say focus has to be on everyone getting to the net

by Dana Wakiji @Dwakiji / DetroitRedWings.com

DETROIT - As the old adage goes, the best defense is a good offense.

That is far easier said than done against a team that has as many offensive weapons as the Tampa Bay Lightning.

"I think the best defense is play 200 feet away from your net in their end," said Andreas Athanasiou, expected to play in his first game. "As long as you have the puck and keep it away from them, you can play your game."

The Lightning are averaging 4.1 goals per game, second in the league only to the Toronto Maple Leafs' 4.44 goals per game.

"There's things we feel we can do to exploit Tampa and we also feel there's certain threats they present that we better do a good job with," Wings coach Jeff Blashill said. "I've coached against Jon Cooper teams a lot and he's got a real talented team here but they play similar to the way they do when I coached against them in junior.

"If you don't manage the puck and if you don't do a great job of gapping and tracking they're going to have a real good night on the entries and the rush game. They have a great transition game, great rush game. So we got to make sure we do a real good job of eliminating that rush game and not feeding the rush game."

The Wings are 23rd in the league at 2.60 goals per game and have scored only three total goals in the first period of games.

"What's actually crazy about that is I actually think we've had some pretty good starts and haven't scored," Blashill said. "I thought we started good, even against Vancouver, we had a bad game but we had four real chances in the first. Toronto, we actually started really well and then gave up goals. I don't have an answer for that, why it's only been three. If we played real bad in each of those first periods, then you'd really look and say 'OK, what do we need to change?' But I think from a process standpoint, we haven't played bad. I think if you keep playing good first periods eventually you'll score."

The Wings also would like to avoid unnecessary penalties as the Lightning have the top-ranked power play at 30.8 percent.

"Stay disciplined," said Anthony Mantha when asked the key for the game. "They have a great power play but also if we keep the puck and we make our plays, we can grind them in the O-zone and they won't be able to build anything offensively."

Blashill said the other day the Wings have had to pass up some shots as there wasn't anyone close enough to the net, something that has to change.

"I think that's our problem right now," Tomas Tatar said. "We need to get more bodies to the net for sure. For the forward who has the puck and shoots, we need some traffic in front of the net and make it hard on their goalie. I think that's what we're going to focus on tonight."

Although bigger players like Mantha might have an easier time getting to the net, everyone has to have that mindset.

"Anyone can get a rebound and put it in," Mantha said. "If there's no net presence or anything, it's hard to get that rebound, the goalie's just going to freeze it easily. I think it's a message (Blashill) did try to send to us and we need to maybe put a little bit more details into it."

If not, Lightning goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy will have his way with them.

Vasilevskiy is 8-1-0 with a 2.22 goals-against average and .936 save percentage this season. In four career games against the Wings, he is 4-0-0 with a 1.82 goals-against average and .941 save percentage.

"Big goalie," Tatar said. "They had (Ben) Bishop before and now they have him. You don't see much space open when they're in the net but at the same time when you shoot the puck they're a little harder to move than smaller goalies. We just have to shoot from every angle I guess."

HAPPY TO HAVE AA BACK: Athanasiou is expected to play his first game of the season after securing his visa, passing his physical and rejoining the team in Buffalo.

Mantha and Athanasiou have been close for several years and Mantha is thrilled that his friend is back.

"It's great. I was pretty happy when I heard the news," Mantha said. "I was talking to him for maybe the past two months, just trying to know when he was going to come in. Obviously, my guess was it wasn't easy for him during the summer to go through all of this. He wants to play hockey for Detroit and he is now and I hope he helps the team win."

Athanasiou is expected to play with Frans Nielsen and Darren Helm.

He had some chemistry with Nielsen last season.

"He's played with such high-skilled players in the past, he's a veteran in this league and he knows how to play the game," Athanasiou said of Nielsen. "So if you just find the open areas, he'll find you. I think we play good off each other, we both have a lot of speed and even Helm has a lot of speed so I think it'll be good."

There are not too many players in the league with the combination of Athanasiou's speed and offensive skill.

"Just yesterday in practice, we all know his speed, we were doing this 2-on-2 drill and I was going with him and I just chipped the puck on the wall and you know he's going to be flying and he got an easy breakaway," Mantha said. "That's just the kind of player he is and we all know he can put the puck in the net."

LINEUPS: Jimmy Howard gets the start in goal.

Defenseman Danny DeKeyser will miss his eighth straight game with a lower-body injury suffered when he blocked a shot in Dallas Oct. 10.

The Wings held an optional skate Thursday morning.

Here are the expected lines:

Tatar-Henrik Zetterberg-Justin Abdelkader

Mantha-Dylan Larkin-Gustav Nyquist

Helm-Nielsen-Athanasiou

Martin Frk-Luke Glendening-Scott Wilson

Expected defense pairs:

Jonathan Ericsson-Trevor Daley

Niklas Kronwall-Mike Green

Xavier Ouellet-Nick Jensen

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