The Grind Line: Player of the Month

The Detroit Red Wings received some much-needed confidence during a three-game stretch in the middle of January. With consecutive wins against Pittsburgh, Montreal and Boston, the Red Wings had a chance to get themselves back in the playoff race.

However, it was short lived, as they lost the next five games, including the first game after the All-Star break, a 4-3 loss to New Jersey on Tuesday.

The Red Wings finished the month 4-5-5 and remain tied for last in the Atlantic Division. Who were the stars of January? Each member of The Grind Line discusses their pick for player of the month.

Tony Wolak: Andreas Athanasiou

Though he was scratched for a game earlier in the month, Andreas Athanasiou was the most valuable Red Wing in January. In 14 games, the young forward scored a team-leading six goals, including this beauty against the Pittsburgh Penguins:

With the Red Wings mounting a comeback against the defending Stanley Cup champions, Athanasiou’s coast-to-coast goal put the Red Wings on top with the first of three unanswered goals in the third period. Detroit carried that momentum and won the next two games before dropping three in a row in overtime — grabbing nine of 12 available points in a six-game stretch.

Athanasiou’s speed and hustle have made him the perfect complement to Frans Nielsen and Thomas Vanek on the Red Wings’ second line. The trio has combined for 13 of Detroit’s 36 January goals (36 percent). Athanasiou, Vanek, and Nielsen accounted for all of the offense in a 4-0 win over Los Angeles on Jan. 5.

On his own, Athanasiou has produced for the Red Wings despite minimal power-play time. Perhaps Athanasiou and his 17.6 January shooting percentage should get a little more man-advantage time? Detroit’s last-ranked power play certainly could use a boost.

Tom Mitsos: Thomas Vanek

Vanek missed one game in January with a lower-body injury, but he still had 11 points (five goals, six assists) in 13 games in January.

Vanek, who is second on the team in points (31) and tied for first in goals (12) with Dylan Larkin and Tomas Tatar, is one of the few sources of offense for the Red Wings. According to Corsica, he also was second on the team in five-on-five individual expected goals per 60 minutes (0.99) behind Athanasiou and individual scoring chances for per 60 (3.29), also behind Athanasiou.

He has been one of the best free-agent signings for general manager Ken Holland at $2.6 million for one year. However, his production most likely has priced him out of Detroit.

I’m guessing the Red Wings will attempt to trade him at the deadline should they be out of reach of a playoff spot, but even if the Red Wings don’t end up trading him, he is due a raise, and I don’t see the Red Wings paying him with a number of restricted free agents to take care of first.

Brandon Peleshok: Mike Green

Though he started the month sidelined with an upper-body injury, Mike Green made his return to the lineup Jan. 10 against the Chicago Blackhawks. Despite missing the first week of January, he still was able to make an impact for the Red Wings.

Four games is a small sample size, but the team went without converting on a single power-play opportunity during that span. While the Red Wings only scored four goals on the man advantage throughout the entire month, Green factored in on two of them. In 10 games, the 31-year-old defenseman registered two goals and four assists during the month. His 0.60 points per game leads the Red Wings’ defensive unit, while his 2.5 shots on goal per game placed him second overall.

The offensive rearguard leads all defensemen on the team in scoring this season with 24 points and has steadily improved since the Red Wings signed him prior to the 2015-16 season. Considering how badly the Red Wings’ blue line has struggled to generate offense this year, Green’s presence is crucial during their push to make the playoffs for a 26th consecutive season.