Blashill counting on Sheahan to show his stuff

Gregg Krupa
The Detroit News

Detroit — Red Wings coach Jeff Blashill said he will start the season with Dylan Larkin on a line with two big guys, Justin Abdelkader and Riley Sheahan.

“I think, one, Riley has played really, really good hockey, so I want to see it,” said Blashill, who begins his second season as coach of the Red Wings against the Lightning tonight.

“He’s got an ability to make plays, and obviously Larkin does and so does Abby.

“I think having a guy who’s been a center on that line, with Riley, just like (Frans) Nielsen and (Henrik Zetterberg), a lot of time the guy that’s low is going to be the low player and cover that center, defensively.

“Obviously, a lot of times that’s going to be Larks, but sometimes it might be Sheahan.

“And then if the game is not going the right way faceoff-wise, I think it’s always good to have two faceoff guys on every line. We have it with Nielsen and Z., and we have it with Sheahan and Larkin.

“So, I think it puts you in a better spot.”

Abdelkader said while some observers doubt the Wings heading into the season, the team will use it as motivation.

“We know what we have in here and what we’re capable of,” the Red Wings alternate captain said. “We’re confident in this group.

“We’ve brought in some really good players, and I think our young players are going to take another step and we’ve got a good mix in here.”

Meet the 2016-17 Red Wings

The other lines, at least to start the game:

■Zetterberg, Nielsen and Tomas Tatar;

■Gustav Nyquist, Darren Helm and Thomas Vanek; and

■Steve Ott, Luke Glendening and Drew Miller.

Andreas Athanasiou is on the roster, but not in the lineup.

Smith confident

Brendan Smith said he believes the defensive corps is better than observers think.

He will get some time on the power play to start the season, Blashill said, and Smith said he is looking forward to more playing time.

“I think our ‘D’ are underrated,” Smith said. “And I know a lot of people give us a lot of grief about our ‘D’ not being good. To me, that frustrates me because I think we’re a good club and a good squad.

“Defense isn’t just our ‘D’ corps, but it’s the whole defense. And I think we’re good and we’ll show that, for sure.”

Smith will be paired with Mike Green, who, Smith asserted, “makes the game so much easier for me, and I think people underestimate how good he actually is defensively.”

The other pairings:

Danny DeKeyser, who in the offseason signed a six-year, $30 million contract befitting a No. 1 or No. 2 defenseman, and Alexey Marchenko, who had a fine, first full season and performed essentially a leadership role for Russia in the World Cup of Hockey.

Jonathan Ericsson, who has struggled at times for two seasons and has revealed he nurses an injured hip, and Xavier Ouellet, who has played in 183 AHL games across three seasons in Grand Rapids, with strongly positive reviews.

Doug Houda, a new assistant this season who once played for the Wings, is handling the defensemen after a successful decade with the Bruins.

“It’s a little bit of a change,” Smith said. “He’s coached Boston and they were a great defensive club for a long time.

“He’s bringing in some of their mentality, as well as a lot of Blash’s.”