Detroit — They’ve had four games at Little Caesars Arena already, but this will be different.
Thursday’s game against Minnesota begins the NHL regular season for the Red Wings — and officially opens their new, sparkling arena.
For as anticipated as the preseason games were — and it’s debatable how much they were — Thursday’s game is different.
“It’ll be great,” defenseman Mike Green said of the excitement level. “It’s a new energy. A new building, a lot of excitement around it. I know as players we’re excited to get going.”
None of the four preseason games were sold out, with all four about half to 2/3 capacity.
It was difficult to take any characteristics out of those games, though one thing was fairly certain: Little Caesars Arena likely will be a loud arena.
“Man, does it get loud,” defenseman Niklas Kronwall said. “I can only imagine what it’s like when it’s sold out. With the stands being so steep, it feels like they’re (the fans) on top of you.”
For opposing teams, Kronwall feels LCA will be an “intimidating factor. It’s going to be a special place, the same way The Joe was. It’s more of the fans than anything about the building.”
It’ll be up to the Red Wings, coach Jeff Blashill said, to match the excitement level surrounding the regular season opener.
“I know our people have kept a lot of the pregame show stuff and the in-game … they didn’t expose it in the exhibition games, so people will get quite a show from that aspect,” Blashill said. “We have to make sure we put on quite a show from a hockey aspect. In the end, we have to win a hockey game. Every game in this league is a playoff game, but with that said, anytime you have a chance to do something like this, when you’re opening a new building, it’s a pretty special thing.”
You’d have to look long and hard in the predictions of any NHL analysts to find the Red Wings making the playoffs.
Most have the Red Wings finishing last, or next to last, in the Atlantic Division.
Players are talking about having a collective chip on their shoulders, after last season’s disappointment, and the low expectations of outsiders this year.
“The determination, the professionalism here, the leadership and commitment,” Green said of the reasons the Red Wings can surprise. “Detroit has a history of winning, period. There’s no reason why that can’t happen.”
Blashill insists there isn’t a huge divide in the NHL these days.
“Five of the eight (playoff) teams in the Eastern Conference were brand new (from the previous season),” Blashill said. “That’s the reality. It’s the reality of the league, it’s tight, tight, tight.”
Minnesota is a difficult opener, as the Wild are considered by many people to be a dark-horse Stanley Cup contender.
“I compare their lineup to that Nashville lineup that went to the finals,” Blashill said. “They’ve got a good balance of real good forwards and defense. Not flashy, elite forwards, but a real good, strong forward group.”
… Kronwall (groin) participated in Wednesday’s practice and felt optimistic he’ll be in the opening lineup.
Kronwall, though, isn’t going to rush into the lineup, simply to be able to play in the arena opener.
“It would be pretty cool, but at the same time we have a lot more coming this year,” Kronwall said. “You don’t want to get caught too short-sighted. It’s a long season, and you don’t want this to be something that nags you for a long time.”
… Blashill and his staff have been able to work with the final roster the past two days, instead of the 60 or so bodies in training camp.
“The one thing we did in preseason was try to practice with our group as much as we could,” Blashill said. “That’s a big thing I’ve learned over the time I’ve been part of these, even when I was in the American League. When you practice with split groups, you just don’t get as much accomplished. That’s helped us.”
Wild at Red Wings
Faceoff: 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Little Caesars Arena, Detroit
TV/radio: Fox Sports Detroit/97.1 FM.
Outlook: The first regular-season game in Little Caesars Arena history. Wild LW Zach Parise (back) will not play.