He was back on one of the top two lines, with Dylan Larkin and Tomas Tatar, Wednesday at practice, and coach Jeff Blashill anticipates Athanasiou playing a prominent role Thursday at Tampa Bay (7:30 p.m., Fox Sports Detroit).
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“I didn’t think he was going last night, I thought other guys were going, and he’s going to get a chance to get going in Tampa,” Blashill said. “That game became a three-line game dictated more by them than by us. I made the decision I liked the other guys that were going and went with those matches.
“The last week or so here has been a little bit frustrating at the way I feel we’re out there competing,” Ducks captain Ryan Getzlaf said. “Not at the level I think our group is capable of. We have an opportunity to really push for the playoffs here now, but we got to do it now. We can’t wait.”
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“I thought the few shifts he had after I moved the lines around, he played well. But at that point, I was going with the match and in the end, we won. But I also told him he’s going to go right back on the horse against Tampa. We need him.”
They need Athanasiou to generate scoring chances by putting opponents on their heels with his speed. He has been quiet lately, going 11 games without a goal (three assists during this stretch). Athanasiou played only 9:38 against the Ducks, about half the ice time he logged the previous game at Washington (18:05) and well below his season average of 15:53.
“Whenever I’ve tried to talk to him, whether it’s criticism, whether it’s positive, it’s trying to get him to be the best player he can be and help our team win,” Blashill said. “We need him to be a real good player, we need him to play at a high level, so hopefully he comes out and is flying against Tampa.”
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Athanasiou has 10 goals and 24 points in 45 games. He has experienced brief stretches of dominance during his short NHL career, but also has gone through lengthy slumps. He has been benched during games occasionally and was a healthy scratch on a couple of occasions last season.
“I think to be an elite player in this league – I said it lots, (Mike Babcock) said it lots – you have to do it every night,” Blashill said. “Elite players don’t go in and out. … AA is no different than any of our young guys that want to be elite. They’ll either prove they’re elite on a consistent basis by dominating games … and when they don’t dominate they’re still real good and help teams win.”
Athanasiou said it’s “never fun” not hearing your name called to go on the ice.
“The way the game unfolds, he’s got to make coaching adjustments and line matchups,” he said. “That’s just the way some games go.
“You just got to be ready whenever you’re called. No one likes to sit. It’s just the way it is. We got the two points, it’s the biggest thing.”
Athanasiou said of his scoring slump: “I think I’m getting some chances, I missed some breakaways. I’m not too worried.”
With tonight’s 2-1 victory, Jimmy Howard (215) moves into 7th among American-born goaltenders in wins. #LGRW 🇺🇸🇺🇸🇺🇸 pic.twitter.com/rpaPzwJR6W
Asked how he can become more consistent, Athanasiou said, “I think that just comes with how much you’re out there. You get out there a lot, you’re obviously going to generate some more numbers, as opposed to when you get out there a little bit less, it’s tougher.”
The Red Wings want Athanasiou to compete hard, even when the puck isn’t going in for him.
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“When he’s on, he’s winning tons of puck battles … he’s really engaged and on top of that puck,” Blashill said. “When he’s not on, he reaches a little bit, and that’s a tough team to reach against.”
“As I said after the Islanders game (7-6 overtime loss Friday), I think a lot of people expected us to fold and we weren’t going anywhere, we’re not folding,” Blashill said. “You got to win some games ugly sometimes and I thought we found a way to win an ugly game (Tuesday).”
Share Share A Slumping Playoff Team tweet share Reddit Pocket Flipboard Email Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images Take a deep breath.
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There has been a collective freakout from Ducks fandom over the team’s recent stretch of games. And the thing is, I don’t really blame them. 5 straight years of relatively easy roads to the playoffs has spoiled fans. There is even a good chunk of new fans that have yet to experience missing the playoffs. Now, for the first time in half a decade, that stability is threatened.
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Anaheim is currently on the outside looking in at a playoff spot with the teams above them having at least one game in hand. They are 3-3-2 in their last 8 games played. And there are 7 Western Conference teams battling for approximately 4 (maybe 5) playoff spots up for grabs. In the Pacific alone, 3 points separate 2nd from 5th place.
In short, this is the tightest playoff race the West has seen in years.
Given the Ducks recent inconsistency in the game results section, it’s not surprising that many are starting to think that the season is over.
Share Share Ducks @ Red Wings MORNING THOUGHTS tweet share Reddit Pocket Flipboard Email Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images The Ducks blew another game that they should’ve won against a team in the bottom 10 of the league. They outplayed the Red Wings, but costly turnovers led to the Ducks walking away with zero points and their road to the playoffs becoming that much harder. There is a small silver lining. The Pacific division did terrible last night.
However, I’m here to help you pump the breaks. This team has played better than their record indicates as far as underlying numbers are concerned.
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The first is that the Ducks are down on their luck somewhat. Those shot attempt numbers are those of a cup contending team that should be winning more. The PDO and SH% indicate that things just aren’t quite going the right way for the team.
However, in those 8 games, the Ducks have a -4 goal differential. Despite getting the better of most of their recent opponents in shot and scoring chance generation, they have been making critical mistakes on defense that teams have been executing against. The eye test certainly lines up with this, as the Ducks blue line has been revealing some glaring holes lately that Bob Murray absolutely has to address if the Ducks want to remain in the hunt.
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There’s good news though. While the Ducks haven’t gotten the results they have wanted, neither have their competitors in the playoff race. In their last 8 games, the playoff contenders in the Pacific have records of:
Yes, the Ducks have the worst record of those four, but they’re not exactly being left in the dust. Now it’s up to the team to tighten up the loose ends and take advantage of the Pacific’s mediocrity.
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This illustrates why the Ducks should be buyers and not sellers. That they should buy now, not wait until the deadline.
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Craig Custance’s interview with Bob Murray for The Athletic (paywall) was admittedly disheartening to say the least. Murray indicated that he’s frustrated with the team’s recent play and seemed to imply that it’s up to the team and coaching staff to decide if he is going to buy or sell. There’s also a noticeable lack of accepting blame on his part for the actual holes in the roster construction.
If the team has issues that can be solved through the trade market (defense) and are on the cusp of a playoff berth with 2 months remaining in the regular season, why wouldn’t you be doing everything in your power right now to get a team with Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry over the hill instead of waiting for 2 weeks and giving yourself a chance to drop out?
The Ducks General Manager just indicated that he is paralyzed with indecision. This close to a playoff spot this team has to make a move now with an open cup window. Now is not the time for indifference when your opponents are giving you a chance to leapfrog them. And it’s certainly not in the best interests of the club to just count on the other Pacific teams to continue to play poorly.
Recency bias can take over relatively easily. The fanbase and, unfortunately, the General Manager seem to be plagued by it. The Ducks have generally played well through this slump and are one or two roster additions away from getting back on track to lock up a spot for the playoffs. There are holes in the roster, but none that aren’t fixable; especially on the blue line.
Take a breath and realize that the season is not over yet. Give the team a chance to address their issues. The team may be starting to run out of race track, but there is still time. Murray may not know what to do right now, but history has shown he can be aggressive and quick when he wants to be (see Henrique, Eaves, Wizniewski, Perron, etc).
Put down your torches and pitchforks, but, given Murray’s recent comments, keep them close by.