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Wings meet familiar foe in regular-season opener

Lightning have eliminated Wings in the last two playoffs

by Dana Wakiji @Dwakiji /

DETROIT - The Red Wings are kicking off the season against a familiar foe, the Tampa Bay Lightning.

The Lightning have eliminated the Wings in the first round of the playoffs the last two seasons and are a popular pick to win the Atlantic Division.

"When it's this time of year, no matter who you're playing, from my perspective, we're just thinking about ourselves," Wings coach Jeff Blashill said. "We're making sure we're playing to our identity, that systematically we're in a good spot. With that said, we know Tampa well, that makes the preparation a little easier because you know what they want to do, you know that they're about, you what their identity is. They're certainly a great challenge."

Justin Abdelkader said the Lightning are a measuring stick for them.

"This is the team we'll have to go through if we want to be successful in the playoffs," Abdelkader said. "We look forward to the challenge. Guys that have been here have a chip on their shoulder. This is a team that's become a great rivalry between both organizations with the previous playoff series. They'll be excited. It's their home opener and our first game, too. We're really looking forward to it."

Former New York Islander Frans Nielsen is new to the Detroit-Tampa Bay rivalry but he's not new to how good the Lightning are.

"I know these guys got knocked out and I personally got knocked out in the next round against them last year," Nielsen said. "A good team, they got a lot of skill, good skaters. It's one of those teams you got to be really solid defensively and play a good team game to beat those guys because you know they're coming."

NO PRACTICE FOR KRONWALL: Defenseman Niklas Kronwall, who is dealing with chronic knee issues, did not practice Wednesday.

Blashill said Kronwall's absence was planned and not a setback.

"He's not going to skate every day all year," Blashill said. "We're going to give him days off throughout the season. He had a real hard skate on Monday, it was a real hard, challenging day. It's going to be a process to get him game ready and when he is we're still going to have to do a real good job managing him."

Kronwall is on injured reserve retroactive to Sept. 22 so he is eligible to come off IR as soon as he's ready to play.

The team is thinking long-term when it comes to Kronwall.

"I want him to play as many games as possible where he feels great and I want to limit as many games when he doesn't feel great and those nights he might have the night off or maybe plays 81 great games," Blashill said. "It all depends on how he feels."

POWER PLAY PRACTICE: The Wings spent a lot of time before and during practice Wednesday working on the power play.

The first unit consisted of Tomas Tatar-Nielsen-Henrik Zetterberg-Thomas Vanek-Mike Green with Vanek net-front.

The second unit was Gustav Nyquist-Dylan Larkin-Riley Sheahan-Justin Abdelkader-Brendan Smith with Abdelkader net-front.

Because Kronwall isn't playing, Smith will get a chance with the man-advantage.

"I think the last preseason game I was getting some time on the power play and I hope I can get some chances in Florida," Smith said. "I just want to move the puck well and make good decisions."

Blashill is having new assistant coach John Torchetti direct the power play with an emphasis on creating more havoc at the net right off the face-off.

"He's got a different mentality than what we had," Smith said. "He's changed some things up. It'll be exciting to get in there and play with some of these guys. I haven't had that many chances here in the NHL but I think I can still do a good job."

OUELLET GETS CHANCE: In Kronwall's absence, Smith will get a chance on the power play and Xavier Ouellet will get a chance in the lineup.

In Wednesday's practice, Ryan Sproul was the extra defenseman.

"I think both X and Ryan Sproul had real good second halves to the exhibition season, I thought they did a real good job," Blashill said. "That night in Pittsburgh I thought was a real big night for both of them. I thought they played excellent against a real good lineup. Sproully will get his chance here soon. They both have to play real good hockey."

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