Edmonton, Alberta – In an effort to get more offense throughout the Red Wings lineup, coach Jeff Blashill shuffled his lines.
One of the new combinations has Riley Sheahan centering Gustav Nyquist and Tomas Tatar, three young players capable of creating offense that’s been missing.
It’s a good opportunity for Sheahan to break out, having one goal in the first six games, but now playing with two goal-scoring wingers.
The line proved to be, arguably, the Red Wings’ best line in the 3-1 loss to Edmonton on Wednesday night. They accounted for the only goal, as Tatar scored his first of the season, with Nyquist and Sheahan assisting.
“They were great,” said Blashill, who started the game with that line. “I started them for a reason, so they knew they could be a big impact in the game and they had a real positive impact. They spent tons of time in the offensive zone, scored the lone goal, and had a real good night.”
Blashill is looking for a line to take some of the scoring load off the Dylan Larkin-Henrik Zetterberg-Justin Abdelkader line.
“I’m looking for them to take the next step,” Blashill said.
The Red Wings also hope Sheahan himself takes another step in his young career this season.
Only 23, Sheahan has the size (6-foot-3, 222 pounds) and hands to become a two-way force in the NHL, scoring at one end and shutting down opppsing centers. But attaining that consistency at the NHL level is something Sheahan is still learning.
“He’s real good defensively and he has a big body,” Blashill said. “He protects the puck well and he can make good seam passes in tight places.
“I’d like to see him spend more time in the offensive zone.”
Sheahan understands the importance of his line producing offense and taking some of the pressure of Zetterberg’s line.
“Obviously it would help,” Sheahan said. “You go throughout our lineup, we have many good players. Our depth is one of the things that’ll be working in our favor.
“It’s (important) to get more contributions throughout our lines.”
The Red Wings made their final regular-season appearance at Rexall Place (formerly Northlands Coliseum).
Now it’s 32nd season, the arena has seen the brilliant Oilers’ dynasty headed by Wayne Gretzky and Mark Messier, and been the home rink of many Hall of Famers and legendary hockey figures.
The Oilers are moving into a new downtown arena next season.
Similar to the Red Wings’ new arena, there will be an entertainment district by the new Edmonton arena which locals are hoping will energize a sleepy downtown area.
More than a few Red Wings players rate Rexall as one of the better places to play.
“There’s so much history here,” Sheahan said. “The fans, they’ve gone through a whirlwind and it’s definitely a historical organization.
“To be in the same building and feel that pride, it’s pretty cool.”
Sheahan compares the situation to the Red Wings’ current dilemma.
“It’ll be sad to see it leave, but a new building is always exciting,” Sheahan said.
Dylan Larkin and Edmonton rookie Connor McDavid, the No. 1 overall pick in June’s draft, spent time together last month during the league’s rookie showcase.
The two competed as teens, also, in national tournaments.
“I’ve played against him since I was probably 12, 13,” Larkin said. “He’s always been a special player. He’s a good guy. It’s good to see a nice, humble guy like that.”
…There were no changes to the Red Wings lineup. Brendan Smith was the extra defenseman, but will play at some point during this road trip, said Blashill.
“We have to keep guys playing,” Blashill said. “We have seven good ones (defensemen), but as a group they can all play better, so that’s going to be the first focus.”