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NHL

Andreas Athanasiou Still Has Wheels

Andreas Athanasiou celebrates
NESN

This goal, from a January 2019 game between the Red Wings and the Predators, is maybe my favorite that I’ve ever seen live. The Wings were in the middle of a terrible year, outmatched and down 2-0 in the second period, but a defensive zone faceoff win got the puck onto the stick of Andreas Athanasiou at center ice to change the momentum of this game. Athanasiou accelerated to top speed in a blink to leave defenseman Dan Hamhuis in the dust, and though he almost lost control of the puck in doing so, he chased it down close to the red line and without hesitation backhanded it by Pekka Rinne for the icebreaking goal in the eventual 4-3 overtime win.

This was part of Athanasiou’s best year—a 30-goal season at age 24—but his results since then have been underwhelming. At the deadline in 2020 he was traded by the tanking Wings to a playoff team in Edmonton, but was allowed to leave in restricted free agency after scoring just one goal for the Oilers. He went to the Los Angeles Kings, where last season he scored a mere 10 goals. This year, he’s missed nearly two-thirds of his team’s games with injuries. But at age 27, the one thing he does particularly well when he’s on the ice—skate really fast—has not left him.

The Kings were in Boston to take on the Bruins Monday night, and they pulled off quite a win. Trailing 2-1 with 30 seconds to go, Trevor Moore took advantage of some unpredictable puck movement to tap in a crowd-silencing goal and force OT.

But the Kings’ 25-goal scorer Adrian Kempe made a serious miscalculation at the end of regulation when he dropped the gloves with the far less important Derek Forbort. They each picked up double minors for roughing, leaving L.A. without their leading scorer for the first four minutes of 3-on-3 overtime.

They didn’t need to simply hold the fort, however, because just two minutes in, Athanasiou made an interception in open ice on his side of the rink. From that point, it was just a straight-up race to the net between him and Charlie McAvoy. Athanasiou won—of course he won—and he punctuated that victory by beating Linus Ullmark on the near side for the Kings’ second point.

The fan at the 0:24 mark, with the Bruins hat and the Kings jersey, seems like a real scoundrel.

With a mixture of smart veteran acquisitions like Viktor Arvidsson and Phillip Danault and solid play from bedrock guys like Drew Doughty and Anze Kopitar, the Kings have actually been pretty good this year, sitting second in the Pacific after seven seasons with only a single playoff game won to show for it. If they could just get one of their goaltenders on a hot streak, they’d be a terrifying threat to any team in the postseason.

But frankly, I’m more excited by the vintage Athanasiou goal. There hasn’t been much of a reason to closely follow his career lately, and given the stats from his early days in Detroit it’s easier than anything else to paint him as an example of unfulfilled potential. Perhaps he is. But it’s nice to see that, when healthy and in the right circumstances, he’s still capable of creating magic. His skill didn’t leave him. It was maybe just hiding for a while.