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Welcome back, Double-A

by Dana Wakiji / Detroit Red Wings
The Red Wings recalled Andreas Athanasiou from Grand Rapids on Friday. The speedy center played six games for the Red Wings in November, collecting his first NHL goal during that stint. (Photo by Bill Roose/Detroit Red Wings)

DETROIT -- The last time Andreas Athanasiou was with the Detroit Red Wings, he scored the only goal in a 1-0 victory over the Washington Capitals Nov. 10.

The Wings are looking for a little more offense and hoping Athanasiou can contribute in that department.

"I just got the call this morning early in Rockford and got here as quick as I could," Athanasiou said after Friday afternoon's practice.

With the AHL's Grand Rapids Griffins, Athanasiou has eight goals and eight assists in 26 games.

"He's an amazing player," Riley Sheahan said. "He's super fast, obviously. He's able to make moves at a high speed. I think his offensive skill is very good. I think we need some scoring and I think he can provide that."

Wings coach Jeff Blashill had Athanasiou centering Tomas Tatar and Gustav Nyquist in practice.

"We wanted to look at it today so we can how it would look going into the game tomorrow," Blashill said. "We’ll make adjustments as needed. The one thing when Double A was up here earlier he brings an element of speed that we want to make sure our team we think can have a real identity of being an extremely fast team when we go (Darren) Helm, Athanasiou, (Dylan) Larkin, just a team that can have lots of team speed so hopefully he can bring that to us. I’ve got lots of faith in him on the defensive side of the puck as well so it’ll be up to him to capitalize on those opportunities."

Tatar was looking forward to playing with Athanasiou in Saturday's game against the New York Islanders.

"He’s really fast, kind of like Larks' speed," Tatar said. "It’s awesome. I feel like the league is getting faster and faster so we’re really happy we have him here. He can bring the element to our line. It’s good to have him. When he was up here he did tremendous a job so I’m glad he’s back."

Tatar and Nyquist are tied for second with Justin Abdelkader on the Wings in goals with 14. Larkin leads with 17.

"Those are two good players and obviously they have a lot of skill," Athanasiou said. "I think my speed can help them out and complement their play."

At 6-foot-2, Athanasiou is the biggest of the three players but that doesn't mean he's the only one slated for net-front duties.

"I think they’re going to have to share that responsibility on the net front," Blashill said. "There’s not a natural net front on that line. When I was here as an assistant we had (Valtteri) Filppula, (Jiri) Hudler and (Henrik) Zetterberg on a line together and ultimately Hudler ended up being the net-front guy even though he hadn’t prior so I think it’ll be up to them to make sure to have somebody be that net-front guy at all times."

Athanasiou also did some work on the penalty kill during practice.

"He hasn’t killed much this year," Blashill said. "For Grand Rapids he did kill a bit for us last year. Am I confident in him, yes, but we have to make sure when he goes out there that he executes at a high level if he gets an opportunity."

OTHER CHANGES: With Athanasiou in the mix, that meant the Wings' other lines were shaken up as well.

Zetterberg was on a line with Pavel Datsyuk and Abdelkader.

Sheahan was centering Luke Glendening and Tomas Jurco.

"It should be good," Sheahan said. "I think we're all familiar with playing with each other and all get along. I think we got two center men out there so being able to kind of exchange if one gets to the puck first down low in our D zone, we're comfortable down there. Face-offs, things like that will be good. And all three of us, I think, are capable of playing in the O zone and cycling around so we're excited."

Brad Richards was with Darren Helm and Larkin.

"Anytime you make changes and decisions you have the potential to be a little bit worse," Blashill said. "We have to deal with the consequences of our decisions. That’s what coaching and management is all about. We’ve felt like we’ve made decisions that’ll make us a tad bit more successful, add a little more scoring without giving up any more defensively."

SCORING WOES: The Wings have scored 125 goals.

Only Carolina (124), Buffalo (119), New Jersey (117), Philadelphia (117) and Toronto (116) have scored fewer in the Eastern Conference.

In the Western Conference, only Vancouver (119) and Anaheim (106) have scored fewer.

"Obviously it's hard to score," Sheahan said. "But compared to other teams, we're still doing well in the standings. I think if we can find a way to put some more goals in, we can be even more successful. It's something we've got to figure out and there's a lot of us in here capable of doing that. We just got to figure it out."

The Wings believe they are creating enough chances.

"Most of our games none of the teams score very many goals so we've been in a lot of one-goal games," Nyquist said. "The goalies are good, it's tough to get room to get a good chance off, but when we do get chances -- I think we're creating some chances -- we just got to make sure we bear down and make sure we score."

If the Wings could get more production out of their power play, that would help.

The Wings are ranked 20th on the power play at 17.9 percent.

The line changes could help out with the man-advantage.

"One thing about the power play it is affected by who’s on whose line so when guys are on the same lines together it way easier in reality of games to be able to keep them on power play units together," Blashill said. "We’ve got one with Pav and Z back together. The biggest thing with that they’ve scored so far this year the same rate when they’re together and when they’re apart, they have to score at a great rate together on the power play. On the other unit when they haven’t had one of them hasn’t scored enough so now the pressure’s on Tats, Larkin, Nyquie to make their own power play."

MOMS HAD FUN: The Wings went 0-2 against Tampa Bay and Florida with their moms along for the ride, but that doesn't mean they won't have another mothers and mentors trip.

"It was the first time we were able to bring our moms, our brothers, other mentors," Nyquist said. "I think it was their time, they felt the same way and they had a lot of fun. Unfortunately, we couldn't come up with wins but we had a good time."

Since it's his rookie season, Larkin's mom, Sidney Denise, got to travel with her son before dad Kevin did.

"It was fun," Larkin said. "It was a little bit different than it would be with the dads. Kind of worried a little bit about what to wear and they’re all gossiping. But it was fun. It was awesome to have our moms and they’re such important people to us and our career so it was nice to have them come with us and spend some time."

Blashill, who brought his sister Deborah, didn't think the team's lack of success reflected on the moms.

"I’d like to know what their records are with the dads," Blashill said. "I don’t think that can fall on the moms at all. They were great. They had lots of fun and I think it was contagious. I know this, on the dads trip no one was walking around and handing me cookies on the plane. I got that with the moms so I’ll take that."

STARTING GOALIE: Blashill said Petr Mrazek would start against the Islanders.

ZIDLICKY’S RETURN: Marek Zidlicky, who spent a few months playing with the Red Wings last season, returns to Joe Louis Arena on Friday.

The Wings host Zidlicky’s new team, the New York Islanders, Saturday at 2 p.m. EST.

The veteran defenseman says he enjoyed his time in Detroit and wishes he could have stayed longer. But with his wife and young son still living on the east coast, playing home games in Brooklyn was more appealing.

“That’s what happens,” Zidlicky said. “That’s our lives. Sometimes it’s tough to be without the family but the Detroit Red Wings are a big name and I enjoyed every game. For me personally, it was pretty good time in my career.”

Zidlicky came to Detroit as a trade-deadline acquisition from New Jersey last season. In return, the Wings gave the Devils a third-round pick in the 2016 NHL draft.

He played in just 21 games, but had a big impact along the Wings’ blue line, particularly on the second power-play unit.

Zidlicky finished with 11 points, including three goals – all on the power play. He was knocked out of the Wings first-round playoff series loss to Tampa Bay with a concussion from a questionable hit to the head by Brendan Morrow in Game 6.

The Wings showed interest in retaining the right-handed shooting Zidlicky, however, he decided in the offseason to stay closer to home, signing with the Islanders for one year at $1.5 million.

“Detroit has a lot of history, and for many years they’ve had a good team,” he said. “I enjoyed every game and every day to be here. It was pretty nice. Each guy is pretty good, that’s why they’re here. They do a pretty good job playing for this team. It was nice, a nice experience for me.”

This season. Zidlicky has three goals and 14 points in 42 games with the Islanders, his fifth different NHL club.  He also spent time with Nashville and Minnesota.

“We have a good team, a young team,” the 39-year-old said. “They’re working hard every practice, every game and I like it. I like it a lot.”

But like Detroit, the Islanders need points. Both have 58 points in the Eastern Conference standings.

“It’s unbelievable how tight it is,” Zidlicky said. “It’s like the playoffs you know. You have to prove everyday and every game and try to push yourself even more.” managing editor Bill Roose contributed to this report.

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