DAN GREENSPAN, Associated Press
LOS ANGELES (AP) — The Detroit Red Wings have plenty of work to do if they’re going to make the playoffs for the 26th consecutive season.
The effort they displayed against the Los Angeles Kings was a good start, harnessing the speed of promising second-year forward Andreas Athanasiou to lift an erratic offense and come away with a critical road win.
Thomas Vanek scored twice during a three-goal first period, Jared Coreau stopped 34 shots for his first career shutout and the Red Wings beat the Kings 4-0 on Thursday night.
Athanasiou also scored in the first period, and Coreau turned away Tanner Pearson on a penalty shot during the opening frame. Anthony Mantha added a goal in the third to help Detroit end a two-game skid.
“For us, it’s scoring,” said Vanek, explaining the cause of the Red Wings’ inconsistent play. “We struggle to score. When we get those early ones I think it relaxes everyone on the bench and helps us out, so we’ve got to put a few here together.”
Vanek scored in the first two minutes and last two minutes of the first for his 53rd career multigoal game, giving him nine goals this season.
Jeff Zatkoff made 18 saves for the Kings, who had a two-game winning streak halted as they opened an important seven-game homestand.
Athanasiou added two assists for his first career three-point game. His speed was evident on both ends of the ice, as he chased down Pearson on a breakaway shortly after Vanek scored 1:42 into the game – though Athanasiou failed to communicate with Danny DeKeyser on the play. DeKeyser hooked Pearson, but Athanasiou was incorrectly tabbed the culprit responsible for conceding the penalty shot.
Coreau challenged Pearson by coming out to cut off his angle and was able to easily turn away the ensuing shot.
Seeing Athanasiou deliver on offense and defense is a welcome development for Red Wings coach Jeff Blashill.
“It’s not a defensive thing, it’s not an offensive thing. It’s a skating-in-a-battle thing and I thought he was big-time engaged in the first period right from the beginning,” Blashill said. “When he’s that determined, he’s got big-time talent. We’re a better team when Double A is going at a high level and he was going at a high level tonight, so now the challenge for every player is to follow that up Saturday against San Jose.”
After being scratched in a listless 2-0 loss at Anaheim on Wednesday, Athanasiou provided a spark from the start, helping Frans Nielsen set up Vanek for the opening goal on their first shift.
Athanasiou then got behind three Kings on a breakaway after Nic Dowd misplayed the puck in the offensive zone and buried a shot for his sixth goal of the season.
Athanasiou’s acceleration was also a factor on the third goal, with Vanek cleaning up a rebound after Athanasiou sped in on net for a shot that Zatkoff could not control.
“His speed brings a little different element to our line. He showed up tonight; he was the difference,” Vanek said. “There are a few guys that have speed, but it’s all about confidence. When he feels good about his game, you see a player like this tonight. It’s Fransy and my job to keep him honest, keep making sure he does his things.”
The Kings have struggled to do their thing on offense this season, too often relying on Jeff Carter and his 21 goals to fill the scoresheet. That has to change for Los Angeles to get back into the postseason mix, forward Jordan Nolan said.
“It seems if he doesn’t get a goal or whatever it may be, no one steps up and fills that void,” Nolan said. “It’s starting to get a little old. We’re starting to get into crunch time here.”
NOTES: The Kings were shut out for the fifth time this season. … The Red Wings tied their largest margin of victory this season, matching a 5-1 win over Ottawa on Oct. 17. … The Red Wings scratched RW Tomas Jurco. … The Kings scratched D Matt Greene, D Tom Gilbert and LW Andy Andreoff.
Red Wings: Visit San Jose on Saturday as their season-high seven-game trip continues.
Kings: Host Minnesota on Saturday.
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