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Excitement high as Wings prepare for season’s start

Gregg Krupa
The Detroit News

Detroit — Jeff Blashill talks about feeling it in the room and folks approaching him around town to talk about it.

There is a sense this year, on the eve of a new season, with the Red Wings opening tonight against the Maple Leafs and Mike Babcock, that excitement and optimism are greater than in the recent past.

“Yes, yes. I can sense that a little bit,” said Blashill, who is to appear as a coach in the NHL for the first time tonight.

“I was in a youth hockey rink last night watching my 9-year-old playing squirt hockey — his team won, by the way — and I was approached by a number of different people.

“There was people I knew that are fans, there are people I didn’t know that walked up.

“I think there’s just an excitement level to get the season going. I think there’s a good expectation, an anticipation, of what this team could do.”

While he allowed that similar feelings likely flourish in most NHL cities in North America, there is something a little different in Detroit this second week of October.

“I think the fans have a good sense of what we feel internally that if we do the right things, we could be a very good team,” he said.

“We also recognize how close the league is, so we’re going to have to do the right things.”

On the ice during practices, it is noticeable the chirping is more lively and the cheers at the end of some of Blashill’s new drills more enthusiastic and easy to muster than in recent years.

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A new coach. A couple free agents capable of making a difference. Two good goaltenders pushing each other.

Young guys a season more experienced.

And, almost incredibly, given the history of choosing the roster for a couple decades, a 19-year-old scoring threat. And he carries himself like a 29-year-old.

“Yeah, I think between the new players and (Dylan) Larkin coming in as a 19-year-old, I think there’s some good story lines,” said Justin Abdelkader, who exploded offensively last season with 23 goals.

“But, I think we just approach it the same way.

“We’re looking forward to getting things kicked off, here, at home. We think we have the opportunity to have a really good season.

“I think we’ve had a good training camp, a good preseason. The guys are ready to go.”

Abdelkader, who like Larkin and Luke Glendening grew up in Michigan wanting to play for the Red Wings, said he, too, has noticed a bit more buzz among the fans this year.

“Yeah, I think the fans are really excited,” he said. “I think they’ve seen the last three years.

“Between losing to Chicago in Game 7 and Tampa — one of those teams went on to win the Stanley Cup and one lost — I think they can see that this group is very close.

“I think they’re optimistic about the young players coming up and the growth of our young players. And the veterans are still playing well and contributing a lot.

“So, yeah, we’re really optimistic.

“But so are a lot of other teams. So we know it’s going to be tough.”

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Tomas Tatar said even just the annual first game at Joe Louis Arena is a thrill.

“The opening night is real special, you know?” he said. “You’ve been waiting all summer to get the season started.

“It’s really special when you see all those Red Wings fans in the same spot again, too.

“Introducing the players, I think it all has a special feeling, for sure.”

From his team, Blashill said he is looking for two ingredients that can be enormously effective, and yet has not been as big a part of the Red Wings repertoire the past four seasons — efficiently launching a sustained attack.

“For us to be a really good hockey team, I think for any hockey team to be good, you want to get the puck out of your end,” Blashill said.

“Toronto’s going to make it real hard on us. They’re going to pressure us hard.

“So we’ve got to do a real good job of managing the puck and getting it out of our end.”

From there, he said, it is a matter of controlling the puck to achieve geographic superiority.

“Ultimately, you want to spend as much time in the other team’s end as possible,” he said. “So, we’re going to have to do a good job on our forecheck and create turnovers, and then spending O-zone time.”

Newly acquired free agent Mike Green, a right-handed-shooting defenseman with a persistent record, when healthy, of offensive accomplishment, is a big part of the excitement, especially given his ability to launch the attack.

“I think that’s maybe in the job description, to try to bring some offense,” Green said.

“I’m just trying to find my place, here, within the team.

“Obviously, an incredible foundation. I’m just trying to sort of fit in and maybe bring a little more to the puzzle.”

Maple Leafs at Red Wings

Faceoff: 7:30 p.m. Friday, Joe Louis Arena, Detroit

TV/radio: FSD/97.1

Outlook: The Red Wings start their campaign for a 25th consecutive playoff appearance with a new, young coach and significant free-agent acquisitions — D Mike Green and C Brad Richards. ... The Maple Leafs roster suggests they will not make the playoffs, but players say they notice a difference from last season playing for former Red Wings coach Mike Babcock.