Empty seats to greet Red Wings in opener: 'You certainly miss a lot of that'
Detroit — It’s become the norm in sports since the pandemic arrived, to the point where seeing no fans in stadiums and arenas begins to look normal.
But for the Red Wings, who haven’t played in 10 months, Thursday’s regular-season opener at Little Caesars Arena will be a new experience.
No fans in the spacious arena, but there will be many red tarps over seats in the lower bowl.
There’s a chance that will be the scene for the entire 28-game home schedule.
“You certainly miss a lot of that,” said coach Jeff Blashill after Thursday’s morning skate. “You miss being around the fans, the energy of the fans, and the energy that is created when it’s the first game of the season.
“Life is different right now and sports are different. We’re also trying to stay focused on what we can control and that’s going out and playing good hockey.
“We’re to adapt as everyone has had to.”
The Red Wings had one intrasquad scrimmage last week on the main ice at LCA. There was a DJ, the music was loud and thumping, and Blashill and players were positive about the game presentation minus fans.
“I know that our business (operations) side are working to create a good atmosphere,” Blashill said. “It’s unknown to us, but we’ll make adjustments as needed.”
Five of the six new Red Wings on the roster experienced playing without fans last summer in the NHL bubbles in Edmonton and Toronto.
Defenseman Marc Staal said it was an adjustment.
“Different feeling for sure,” Staal said. “You have a glorious (scoring) chance and normally the crowd would go nuts, and there’s no reaction. The momentum swings in the game aren’t quite the same.”
There are only three arenas currently that are allowing a limited number of fans inside: Arizona, Dallas and Florida.
Because most games will be played without fans, many analysts believe home ice will be negated this season, which Blashill believe could be the case.
“Certainly you lose the home ice advantage of the crowd and the momentum crowds can create,” Blashill said. “Momentum is still a factor, it matters. But with empty building, you (lose) that momentum gained from the fans. You still have matchups and matchups do matter, especially getting the right defensive pair against highly skilled forwards. That’ll still matter.
“But I do think some of the home-ice advantage will be negated.”
Thomas Greiss was expected to get the start in net Thursday, but Blashill reiterated both Greiss and Jonathan Bernier will share the goaltending workload early in the season.
But, if one goalie begins to get hot, he’ll take the lion’s share of games.
“They’re both going to play early,” Blashill said. “I’m not going to put a game-to-game plan, although we have that mapped out in our heads behind the scenes. We’ll take it game by game, but they’ll both play early.
“We have two real good goalies, two guys that can give us an elite level of goaltending at times. If we can get both of them playing at top of their games, both will play.
“If one guys separates, he’ll take the brunt of it. But both will play early.”
Forward Bobby Ryan didn’t play Thursday, but the fact Ryan did take part in practice the day before and has begun skating is a step in the right direction.
“The more he can get back to real practice, the better chance he can play,” said Blashill, who listed Ryan as day-to-day.
…The Wings are the only team in the Central Division who didn’t play in the NHL’s Return To Play last summer, but defenseman Patrik Nemeth doesn’t see it as a negative.
“Teams that played in the playoffs, it’s been a long time since they played,” Nemeth said. “I don’t think it’s going to be too much of an advantage. It’s been looking pretty crisp in training camp (for the Wings), so I anticipate we should be good.”