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Jan. 12: A Look Ahead in Hockeytown

by Craig Peterson / Detroit Red Wings

Riley Sheahan
Center  - DET
Goals: 8 | Assists: 10 | Pts: 18
Shots: 68 | +/-: E
TAYLOR, Mich. Riley Sheahan proved he is capable of just about anything in this league with a single play in Calgary last week. His combination of size, speed, strength, soft hands and hockey smarts is what teams in the NHL are drooling for in the modern era.

At 6-foot-3 and 222 pounds, Sheahan is a physical presence on the ice, heavy on the forecheck and controlling at the net-front. But with his highlight-reel goal in Wednesday’s 3-2 win, the 23-year-old proved his versatility with serious goal scoring abilities.

“I think Sheahan’s been a real good player for us,” coach Mike Babcock said. “We consider him our second line center. When we play (Pavel Datsyuk) and (Henrik Zetterberg) apart that makes him our third-line center. Just do what he’s doing.”

Having played just 86 games through parts of four seasons with the Red Wings, Sheahan has yet to play a full season in the NHL but has already put his assets on display in several facets.

Babcock has utilized the youngster’s flexibility, moving Sheahan around within the lineup, skating him with a variety of linemates. On Saturday, Babcock entrusted the young center to skate on a line with Grand Rapids call-up Teemu Pulkkinen who despite being the same age as Sheahan, had played in just three NHL games prior to the weekend.

Additionally, Sheahan’s role on the power play has been integral for a unit that is third in the league at 24.2 percent.

Playing the net-front position, Sheahan is able to occupy space and play heavy below the goal line. In doing so, he frees up scoring threats like Tomas Tatar and Gustav Nyquist while remaining a weapon himself, scoring four of his eight goals this season on the power play.

Being called upon to produce offensively is a change for Sheahan, who scored 20 goals in three seasons at Notre Dame and 25 goals in 110 games in Grand Rapids. It is a welcomed change for the second-year center.

“It’s a little more offense, a little more confidence,” Sheahan said. “I’m just trying to do different things on the ice, stuff you learn from Pav and Z.”

Could the inside-outside-inside move that turned around Flames defenseman Deryk Engelland be some of the stuff Sheahan has picked up from his mentors?

“I don’t know,” he said. “It’s something you work on after practice. You see some of the guys do it. I saw the opportunity that was there and I just tried to do it and it worked out fortunately.”

With that, here’s a look ahead to this week in Hockeytown:

Jhonas Enroth

TUESDAY at BUFFALO (14-26-3): The Sabres return home after a four-game road trip in which the team went 0-4 scoring just five goals in that stretch. Furthermore, Buffalo is 1-8-1 in the last 10 games and hasn’t won in regulation since Dec. 11 against the Flames. With the worst goal differential in the NHL (minus-66), the Sabres average 1.74 goals per game — the fewest in the league. Additionally, the Sabres’ special teams are some of the worst in the NHL as the power play’s 9.2 percent efficiency ranks last and the penalty kill is 28th at 75.5 percent. However, 10 of the team’s 14 wins this season have come at home, including a 3-2 shootout win over the Wings the last time these two teams met in Buffalo.

PLAYER TO WATCH: In the 69 games since the Sabres traded Ryan Miller, goalie Jhonas Enroth has emerged as the primary replacement in net for Buffalo. The 26-year-old has started in 27-of-43 games this season and has gone 13-20-2 since the departure of Miller at the trade deadline of last season. The Sweden native has shown flashes of brilliance against top teams. This season, Enroth has shut out the defending Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles Kings in a 2-0 win, made 42 saves in a 4-3 win over the Flames, earned two wins on consecutive nights over the Montreal Canadiens and held the Washington Capitals’ high-powered offense to just one goal on 44 shots.

T.J. Oshie

THURSDAY at ST. LOUIS (26-13-3): Winners of four straight, the Blues are in the midst of a seven-game home stretch where the team has gone 15-4-1 this season. Averaging 3.14 goals per game, St. Louis is one of the hottest offensive teams in the league. Since the New Year, the Blues have scored 28 goals in five games and have surpassed the four-goal plateau in four consecutive games. Five different players have recorded double digits in power-play points leading to the NHL’s most efficient unit at 26.2 percent. Additionally, the penalty kill — ranked 18th at 80.3 percent — hasn’t allowed a power-play goal in a season-high four games, while killing off 21 of the last 22 chances in the last seven games.

PLAYER TO WATCH: Earning the NHL’s first star of the week, T.J. Oshie doubled his point total for the season by producing the longest point streak of his career. Through 26 games, Oshie had just 12 points but a seven-game point streak consisting of six goals and 13 points swelled his season total to 25 in 33 games. The 5-foot-11, 189-pound right winger was held scoreless in the Blues 5-4 shootout win over the Carolina Hurricanes on Saturday, snapping his point streak but Oshie is one of eight players on the team to record 25 points through 42 games.

Filip Forsberg

SATURDAY vs. NASHVILLE (28-9-4): Sitting atop the NHL with 60 points heading into Sunday’s matchups, the Predators have been the surprise team of the season. At the halfway point of the schedule, Nashville has yet to lose consecutive games and will come into Detroit on the end of back-to-back games. The Preds are just 1-0-2 in the second game of back-to-backs this season but hasn’t lost a game in regulation since before the holiday break. The bulk of Nashville’s success comes while playing even strength hockey, posting a plus-32 goal differential and surrendering just 60 goals while skating 5-on-5. The power play will have to make serious improvements if Nashville wants to continue its run, as the unit’s conversion rate is 14.4 percent, which ranks 25th in the NHL.

PLAYER TO WATCH: A candidate for this season’s Calder Trophy, rookie Filip Forsberg leads the Predators with 14 goals and 38 points. On Tuesday, the 20-year-old broke Nashville’s franchise record for points by a rookie with an assist on Mike Fisher’s game-tying goal in the Predators’ 3-2 win over the Hurricanes — previously held by Alexander Radulov who recorded 37 points in 64 games. Forsberg leads all rookies in goals (14), assists (24), plus-22 rating and 11 power-play points. The Preds’ top forward has been held scoreless in his previous two games but hasn’t gone more than three games without recording a point this season.

Zemgus Girgensons

SUNDAY vs. BUFFALO (14-26-3): With the second meeting in six days and final meeting of the regular season, the Sabres are just 1-13-2 in the last 16 games against the Wings and haven’t won in Detroit since Oct. 13, 2006. The Sabres gave up four third-period goals, losing 6-3 in their last trip to Joe Louis Arena. Buffalo gives up an average of 4.10 goals per game on the road and hasn’t scored more than two goals in a road game since that loss to the Wings. In that game, the Sabres surrendered four power-play goals and may have difficulty on the penalty kill again, as Buffalo is the third-most penalized team in the league, averaging 12.5 penalty minutes per game.

PLAYER TO WATCH: The leading vote getter for the All-Star Game, Zemgus Girgensons is the most popular player in his native Latvia. The 21-year-old forward leads the team with 11 goals and is tied for second with 20 points. The Sabres go as Girgensons goes with a 10-6-1 record in games that the forward tallies at least one point this season. Inversely, Girgensons struggles are contagious as well, as he has been held scoreless in six straight games — tying his longest drought this season — and the Sabres have gone 0-6 in that stretch.

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