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Trending: Howard stellar as Wings hold off Senators, 3-2

Athanasiou pots two, including 20th of the season on a penalty shot

by Arthur J. Regner and Dana Wakiji @ArthurJRegner and @Dwakiji / DetroitRedWings.com

DETROIT -- With their 3-2 victory over the Ottawa Senators Thursday night at Little Caesars Arena, the Detroit Red Wings opened a six-point gap in the Atlantic Division standings between themselves and the Sens, who are currently last in the division.

Ottawa has a game in hand on Detroit, but the Red Wings believe if they continue to play hard and limit their mistakes, they still could make a playoff push, despite having a Herculean task ahead of them.

If the Wings are to mount a playoff run, they must beat teams like Ottawa even when they don't play their best hockey, which was the case on Thursday.

Without Jimmy Howard playing an exceptional game in his 500th career appearance, the Senators would have skated away with the two points.

Andreas Athanasiou (two, one penalty shot goal) and Frans Nielsen scored for the Wings.

Brady Tkachuk and Matt Duchene scored for the Senators.

Howard, the game's second star, made 40 saves and is 17-15-5 this season.

Ottawa goalie Anders Nilsson had 26 saves and is 9-14-1.

The Red Wings improved to 23-28-7. The Senators fell to 21-31-5.

Up next for the Wings is a back-to-back, home-and-home set with the Philadelphia Flyers Saturday afternoon and Sunday evening.

The Senators continue their four-game road trip with a stop in Winnipeg on Saturday.

1. Andreas Athanasiou: When Athanasiou scores a goal, it usually portends more goals on the way. Athanasiou snapped an 11-game goalless skid with the game winner in Tuesday's 3-2 victory in Nashville on an incredible backhand shot. Prior to that, Athanasiou had been getting many breakaways but had not been able to capitalize. But at 10:44 of the first period, Athanasiou sped into the Ottawa zone past defenseman Maxime Lajoie, deked Nilsson and buried the puck glove-side. It was Athanasiou's 19th goal of the season, setting a new career high. But Athanasiou was not done. At 17:42, defenseman Christian Jaros had no answer for Athanasiou's speed and had to hold him to prevent another breakaway. So Athanasiou was awarded a penalty shot, which he converted through Nilsson's five-hole. Athanasiou was the last Wings player to score on a penalty shot on January 2 against the Calgary Flames. Athanasiou finished with 20 shifts for 16:39, had three shots, one blocked shot, was 0-for-1 in face-offs and was plus-2.

Tweet from @DetroitRedWings: Nice way to open tonight's scoring. #LGRW @DTE_Energy | #OTTvsDET pic.twitter.com/2bOHhA7rVh

Quotable: "I kind of had a little bit of an idea of what I wanted to do. I was coming in from that left side, I kind of just wanted to show him a shot fake and see if he would bite with it. He didn't really bite with it so I kind of knew that he was standing up and the five-hole would be open. Fortunate enough it went in. I think the last couple games have been good, the puck's been finding the back of the net so it's a good feeling. It was a little bit of a stretch before that where I had tons of chances and I didn't really have that puck luck so it's starting to turn a little bit and it's definitely a good feeling." -- Athanasiou

Quotable II: "He was buzzing. He's been playing really well, he's been getting a lot of chances lately. It was nice to see one to get in there against Nashville the last game. He's a threat every night. He's that x-factor for us that gives us a chance to create chances out of nothing really, because of his speed and his talent. It's nice to see him get rewarded. He probably could've had another one tonight. We're happy with the win. That's all that matters." -- Niklas Kronwall

Tweet from @DetroitRedWings: 🔥🔥🔥🔥 pic.twitter.com/aC0ikFQFVS

Quotable III: "I would say I don't remember a stretch where he had as many chances as he's had and they didn't go in. I think he had stretches where he wasn't getting as many chances and maybe there were stretches where he wasn't playing as much because I felt there was things that he needed to learn. In this past stretch, he was getting chances, he was playing a good amount, he just wasn't scoring. I think when you see that, you feel real confident that you're going to score when you're a guy with his ability. He's done a good job staying mentally tough and stayed with it. I think he's been on a line that's really worked for him with Glenny (Luke Glendening) and either (Christoffer) Ehn or Glenny and (Darren) Helm. They've all together, including Andreas, have been great defensively, creating turnovers. He's one of those, not rare guys, but he's one of those guys who sometimes is better to start in the D-zone because a lot of his chances are rush chances. With Glenny, he always starts lots in the D-zone and Double-A ends up with a whole bunch of chances playing good defense." -- Wings coach Jeff Blashill

2. Jimmy Howard: For the last two seasons, Howard's play has given the Red Wings a chance to win each game he's been in net. On Monday in Nashville, he stopped all 19 first-period shots from the Predators in Detroit's 3-2 victory. It was an exceptional display of goaltending and the Wings gave credit to their netminder's first-period performance as the main reason they were victorious. Howard was at a crossroads in his career a few seasons ago when young hotshot goalie Petr Mrazek appeared to be the team's goalie of the future. Instead of sulking and accepting his eventual fate of becoming an NHL backup, Howard went to work on improving his game, reestablishing himself as Detroit's No. 1 goalie. Against the Senators on Thursday, Howard played his 500th career game. He is the 71st goalie in NHL history to reach that historic milestone and is the third goalie to play 500 games for the Red Wings, joining Terry Sawchuk and Chris Osgood. Howard is also the eighth American-born NHL netminder to play 500 games. His performance against the Senators was vintage Howard. He faced dozens of quality scoring chances as the Senators were buzzing all around the Wings net in the second and third periods. Howard made several point-blank saves, especially in the third with Detroit clinging to a one-goal lead. Howard stoned Colin White in front of the net, Tkachuk when the Sens had pulled their goalie, desperately trying to tie the game, and Mark Stone on a rocket of a shot as time expired. For the game, Howard made 40 saves for a .952 save percentage. It was his 17th win of the season and his 238th victory with the Red Wings.

Tweet from @DetroitRedWings: A 40 save night in Jimmy���s 500th. #LGRW pic.twitter.com/J3dHLRGCC0

Quotable: "It's so humbling. Ozzie being one of my best friends and mentors. Seeing Terry (Sawchuk) above my stall every single day. It's a constant reminder that every single day you've got to strive for excellence in here. I've played in so many - 500 of them - that you've been in that situation time and time again. You just pull on past experiences and just relax in there. Just going out there and having fun. Knowing that I don't know how many more years I have left. I just want to enjoy every single second of it." -- Howard

Quotable II: "It was nice. I'm extremely happy for him. It's a huge accomplishment, obviously. He stood on his head. He very much deserved it. I think one of the biggest things is he's never satisfied. He's always looking to get even better. I don't know if I've seen him play better than he has this season to be honest with you. It's pretty impressive." -- Kronwall

Quotable III: "I hear there's 71 goalies in NHL history that have played 500. What an accomplishment. Three in Red Wings history. It's unreal. My first year he was staring in the face of maybe becoming a backup. Once you become a backup, you don't know where it goes from there. He looked in the mirror, he made real changes to his game and you can't do that if you don't look in the mirror and admit you got to get better at stuff, which most people don't want to do. And you can't do that if you don't work extraordinarily hard and hit the mundane drills over and over again, so I just think it's awesome. I think his best attribute is probably his competitiveness and his fire, and he's got real fire. He's got athletic ability, he's a good goalie, he's got quickness, he's got all those things, but his competitiveness and fire to me is what - I don't know that I knew coming in, I knew him as a goalie, I watched him a long time, since he was a young goalie, but I really didn't know him as a person. That's where it's really, really impressed me." -- Blashill

Tweet from @DetroitRedWings: "Just going out there and having fun."More @CocaCola Post Game with Kronwall, Howard, Larkin, Athanasiou and Coach Blashill. #OTTvsDET #LGRW pic.twitter.com/vSaN5nMM9l

3. Frans Nielsen/Niklas Kronwall: Darren Helm was moved onto Nielsen's line, joining Thomas Vanek, and it paid immediate dividends. Late in the second period, Helm went behind the net and stole the puck from Ottawa defenseman Dylan DeMelo and passed it to Nielsen in the left circle. Nielsen's one-timer beat Nilsson at 17:00 for Nielsen's ninth goal of the season and first since Jan. 20 at Vancouver. Kronwall brought the fans to their feet when he passed the puck and stepped into Ottawa forward Rudolfs Balcers at 2:27 of the third period. Stone challenged Kronwall but Justin Abdelkader stepped in to provide Kronwall with some muscle. Both Stone and Abdelkader received roughing penalties. Kronwall did not get a penalty, just a cut below his left eye. Nielsen finished with 19 shifts for 14:21, had a team-high four shots, was 6-of-13 in face-offs and was plus-1. Kronwall finished with 25 shifts for 19:50, had one hit and was minus-1.

Tweet from @DetroitRedWings: Pass. Shoot. Score. 😉9th of the season for Fransy! #LGRW pic.twitter.com/cY5gzVdlj9

Quotable: "I don't know if tonight was anything special to be honest with you. It was more of a bump than anything. I enjoy that aspect of the game. I think there's not enough at times. That's just the way the game is played now. The guys are so fast are they're so smart out there that rarely do those opportunities come along. Whenever there's a chance I don't mind that part of the game." -- Kronwall

Tweet from @DetroitRedWings: #KRONWALLED pic.twitter.com/M72g5SZhv2

Quotable II: "There's no question he's delivered those hits more similar to what he used to do. I haven't seen that in the last couple years and there's no question that they've been on a more frequent basis. We've talked about trying to be a harder team to play against and trying to get a little more physical. I don't know if he's taken that upon himself to make sure that we do have that identity. I don't know if it's because he feels better. I'm not sure why. I would ask him. But there's no doubt that he's been a more physical presence on a night to night basis." -- Blashill

4. Dennis Cholowski : After the game, Blashill announced that rookie defenseman Dennis Cholowski had been sent to the AHL's Grand Rapids Griffins. Since veteran defenseman Trevor Daley returned to the lineup Tuesday in Nashville, Cholowski has been a healthy scratch. The Wings have won both games, 3-2. Cholowski, who turns 21 Friday, has seven goals and nine assists but is a team-high minus-20, including being minus-17 since Nov. 21. Forward Martin Frk, who cleared waivers at noon, was also assigned to the Griffins.

Quotable: "He will play tomorrow night for Grand Rapids. Like we've done with most of these young guys, we're looking at what's best for their long-term development. One, he's got to play, Two, he gets into an environment where he can make mistakes and they're not as costly as they are at this level. Then he can learn and grow at times at a greater rate than he has here lately. We got to make sure we put the individual growth of some of these young guys at a paramount step in our development process and we felt it was the best move for his individual development. I don't have the timetable on how long but I'm hoping he does what Filip Hronek has done and that's gone down and grown his game. When we sent Fil down at the beginning of the year, honestly coming into camp, we thought that was going to be Cholowski. He earned his way to that not happening. Fil went down and I think Fil really improved because of it and his development really showed, so we're hoping that a similar thing will happen with Cholowski. As the year has gone along, he's just been in a position where he's racked up lots of minuses, both from a plus-minus standpoint and from a chances against. So let's go down, let's grow as a player and let's keep getting better and better. I think he's had a real good year, I think it's been a real positive for him. Let's keep that positive going." -- Blashill

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