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Different Wings and mostly same Lightning meet again

Wings and Lightning react to Toronto's Matthews' record-breaking night

by Dana Wakiji @Dwakiji / DetroitRedWings.com

TAMPA - While the Tampa Bay Lightning look much the same as they did last year, the Red Wings are a little different.

Pavel Datsyuk has departed and Frans Nielsen, Thomas Vanek and Steve Ott have arrived.

Niklas Kronwall is out with a knee injury, meaning 23-year-old Xavier Ouellet will play and Brendan Smith will get a shot on the power play.

"You can't replace a guy like Datsyuk but if you're going to try, they did a heck of a job in doing it with Nielsen," Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. "I think he's one of the most underrated players in this league. He was outstanding in the World Cup. They've got some veterans back. (Drew) Miller's back, he missed the whole year. They've got a little bit of a spark in there with Ott in the lineup. Missing Kronwall, I'm sure they'd rather have him in the lineup but they've got some new guys there. They've changed a little bit at forward, they've thrown a sniper in there in Vanek. So they changed their team a little bit so it's going to definitely be a different look."

Wings coach Jeff Blashill said the team is trying to forge a bit of a new identity.

"For years here in Detroit it's been a little bit of a slow, methodical approach up the ice," Blashill said. "We're transitioning to a faster approach up the ice, making sure we're getting relentless pressure, utilizing our speed, beating people up the ice."

Lightning star Steven Stamkos still believes the Wings have a winning formula.

"They brought in some veteran players that know how to win," Stamkos said. "That's kind of been the Detroit Red Wings for a long time. They have guys that have that experience. They have a couple younger faces in there we don't know a lot about, but they're a team that makes it tough to play against. We've seen them in consecutive years in the playoffs and in the regular season a bunch. We know what to expect. We know it's going to be a tough test and we're going to treat it that way."

Justin Abdelkader said the Wings know what to expect from the Lightning as well.

"They have a really good team," Abdelkader said. "Perennial Cup-contending team. We've had some good games against them in the past so we always look forward to playing these guys. It's always tight games, really usually one-goal games. We look forward to opening the season with these guys, a good measuring stick for us. Obviously we've had some changes and these guys have pretty much their whole team back together. We look forward to it. Divisional games are always very important, especially with these guys."

FIRST FOR OUELLET: It will not be Ouellet's first NHL game tonight but it is a first for him.

"It's been four years now, it's the first time I get to play that first game of the year," Ouellet said after the morning skate. "It feels really good, I'm excited and I just want to get going."

Overall, Ouellet said he was pleased with how his preseason went.

"Pretty solid," Ouellet said. "I think I played some good hockey, played good defensively. I think I got stronger, my skating's been better so I feel good out there. I think maybe I can make little more plays with the puck but I've been focusing without the puck and I think I've been good at it."

Last season Ouellet had four goals and 25 assists in 61 games with the AHL's Grand Rapids Griffins, so he can contribute offensively as well as defensively.

"The idea is to jump in at the right moment and to try to find that right moment," Ouellet said. "Got to play smart, got to look at the opportunities, and anytime you've got a chance and it seems good, just go."

Although he hasn't played the Lightning since Jan. 29, 2015, Ouellet knows they're one of the Wings' top rivals.

"You just get to dislike this team with everything that's happened in the last three years," Ouellet said. "It's a team that every time we play them we want to win. It's exciting and it's fun to start here."

MATTHEWS' MOMENT: The Wings saw Toronto rookie Auston Matthews in their final preseason game and thought he was pretty good.

Matthews had two assists that night, which was nothing compared to Matthews' first regular-season NHL game Wednesday, when he scored all four of the Maple Leafs' goals in a 5-4 overtime loss to the Ottawa Senators.

"Four goals, it was unreal," Blashill said. "You could go through his career and not score a hat trick again. I think there's been great players in this league that never score hat tricks. For him to get four goals in his first game, what a moment for him, what a moment for his parents. I saw him for the first time in live action (in preseason last week) and I was extremely impressed. He's extremely strong on the puck, that's the biggest thing I noticed, was his hockey strength. He can be extended and still win puck battles. He's got a great future ahead of him."

Cooper had a tongue-in-cheek explanation for Matthews' success.

"That was the line in the room today, the standard's been set," Cooper said. "Got to chase that one down. Pretty remarkable performance by Auston. I was joking that it was all the extra coaching he got at the World Cup from the North American coaches."

Cooper helped coach Team North America.

Stamkos knows a little bit about scoring in the NHL and he couldn't believe what he saw.

"That was pretty amazing," Stamkos said. "Never been done in the history of the NHL so that's obviously pretty exciting for him to go out in his first game and score four goals. That was fun to watch, even as a player in this league and a hockey fan in general. You just hope the expectations aren't he goes out there and does that all the time. You can see he's going to be a great player in this league for a long time. It just goes to show you that state of this game and all the young kids that are coming up now are unbelievable players and ready to play. He went over and play a year of pro and maybe that gets him ahead of the curve a little bit. These guys coming in are so skilled and so confident and that showed for sure last night."

Abdelkader had a hat trick in last year's season opener but not in his NHL debut. He was one of the Wings who saw Matthews Oct. 8.

"Obviously the first guy ever to score four goals in his first NHL game, it's really impressive," Abdelkader said. "It's great for our league. We have a lot of bright stars, that was great to see. He's a really skilled player, I think he's really mature for his age. Plays both ends of the ice, is big and strong on his skates. He can do everything really well."

Ouellet also played last Saturday against Matthews.

"It's pretty amazing," Ouellet said. "We all knew he was great and then to see him the first game score four goals, that's pretty incredible. He's obviously an amazing player. I think people are excited to see where it's going to go from there. That first game's out of the way and he did an incredible job. I guess we'll see."

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