Blashill confident Wings’ Sheahan will halt funk

Ted Kulfan
The Detroit News

Riley Sheahan’s struggles offensively this season are well known, not having scored a goal in 66 games entering Thursday’s game against Arizona.

But this is a player who has scored 14 and 13 goals the past two seasons, and was expected to produce just as much this season.

In coach Jeff Blashill’s estimation, Sheahan is still capable of being that type of player again in the future.

“History,” said Blashill, without hesitation, when asked this week why he thinks Sheahan can still be a double-digit goal-scorer. “I look at career averages and say that’s probably what they are, up until now (this season). Isn’t that the existentialist theory — you are what you do?

“That’s why I think that, because he’s done it in the past.”

In many fans’ minds, Sheahan’s struggles have typified the Red Wings’ this season.

In a season filled with players slumping or performing below career averages, Sheahan has fallen the most.

Many fans have bristled on social media, wondering why Sheahan hasn’t been benched or seen his playing time cut.

But Blashill has been consistent in his belief Sheahan’s importance to the lineup goes beyond offense.

Sheahan’s size and defensive ability make him a valuable presence, Blashill said, and offense isn’t the sole department in which Sheahan’s value is based.

“He’s a defense-first type of player, which ultimately means he’s going to play in this league a long time, guaranteed, I’ve told him that,” Blashill said. “Some guys come and go, but he’ll stay in this league because he’s a 6-foot-2 big body that is good defensively.

“I’ve had him matched against (Ryan) Kesler, (Ryan) Getzlaf, (Patrice) Bergeron, and he can handle those match-ups. Some guys purely don’t have the skill set to handle those match-ups.

“He will score again. But he’s got to make sure he still a good two-way player.”

Sheahan was a defense-first, shut-down center at Notre Dame, and those characteristics have followed him to the NHL.

“It’s a fine line between anticipating, or cheating, for offense, and he’ll never be somebody who cheats for offense,” Blashill said. “It’ll mean sometimes he’s going to have years where the offense doesn’t go, but he’s still a useful player because even when he’s not scoring he can still do other things like match up against the other team’s best player. He can still be strong on the puck and give you time in the offensive zone.”

Sheahan’s offensive struggles have increased national and local media attention on the subject.

But Blashill feels it’s a non-story.

“I wouldn’t even think about it and he wouldn’t think about it a whole lot if he weren’t asked about it,” Blashill said. “Given the playing situations he’s been in, he’s played good. For whatever reason, it hasn’t resulted in a goal.

“It’s unfortunate; he’s had opportunities. He has shown up on chances for, not to the (degree) of a year or two ago, but part of that is he’s spent more time on the fourth line this year, so that dictates how many chances you get.

“But his chances are still solid. He just hasn’t scored.”

Given the difficulty of this season, Blashill feels Sheahan has dealt with it the best anyone could.

“He’s in a good spot mentally right now,” Blashill said. “Through the course of the season I’m sure there have been times where it’s hard when you’re not producing, hard when you’re not playing as well as you want to.

“But he’s in a good spot right now, where he’s trying to do the very best he can and controlling what he can control — which is his effort and attitude.”

Lashoff recalled

Needing depth on defense — the Red Wings have been playing with the minimum six defensemen on their roster — the team recalled Brian Lashoff from minor-league affiliate Grand Rapids.

Lashoff, 26, played in five games with the Red Wings earlier this season with no points and a minus-3 plus-minus rating.

Lashoff has played in 122 games with the Red Wings over the last four seasons with two goals, 11 assists and a minus-11 rating.

With Niklas Kronwall nursing a persistent sore knee, there was a chance Lashoff would replace Kronwall on Thursday night against Arizona.