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Abdelkader picking up right where he left off last season

Detroit Red Wings' Justin Abdelkader celebrates his goal against the Toronto Maple Leafs in the second period of an NHL hockey game in Detroit Friday, Oct. 9, 2015. It was Abdelkader's third goal of the game. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

Detroit Red Wings’ Justin Abdelkader celebrates his goal against the Toronto Maple Leafs in the second period of an NHL hockey game in Detroit Friday, Oct. 9, 2015. It was Abdelkader’s third goal of the game. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)


DETROIT >> Just two games into the season, Justin Abdelkader is showing that last year’s offensive uptick wasn’t a fluke.

Coming off a career-high 23-goal campaign last season, Abdelkader has four through two games this year.

“I think he’s got great a combination of physicality and skill set and he’s got offensive smarts to go with it,” Wings coach Jeff Blashill said after practice Monday at Joe Louis Arena. “I think one of those things, having a physical type presence on a line, sometimes those guys don’t have offensive smarts to play with elite offensive thinkers. He does.

“He’s been a high-end offensive guy through lots of his career,” Blashill continued. “I think what he’s done at this level is learn how to be very good defensively and build his offensive game back up. He’s certainly done that, not only last year but this season.”

After a hat trick to open the season last Friday, the second of his career, he added the winner in the Wings’ 4-3 win over Carolina to go with an assist on Saturday.

“I think it’s always important to get off to a good start regardless of the year,” said Abdelkader, who was named the NHL’s First Star for his past week’s performance. “You always have to prove yourself each and every year. I don’t think there’s more importance this year or the year before. I’m happy with the start, but it’s only two games. You have to keep improving and keep getting better.”

Abdelkader also had a career-high 21 assists last season.

Wings officially turn the page on the Mike Babcock era

Toronto Maple Leafs coach Mike Babcock, left, reacts during his team's 6-4 loss to the Buffalo Sabres in preseason NHL hockey action in Toronto on Friday September 25, 2015. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young

Toronto Maple Leafs coach Mike Babcock, left, reacts during his team’s 6-4 loss to the Buffalo Sabres in preseason NHL hockey action in Toronto on Friday September 25, 2015. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young


DETROIT >> The Detroit Red Wings can officially now move on from their former coach, Mike Babcock.

“Maybe it meant a little more than playing the Anaheim Mighty Ducks,” Justin Abdelkader said Friday after the Wings’ 4-0 win over the Toronto Maple Leafs at Joe Louis Arena. “I’m not going to lie there, but at the same time now that this game is past us we look to the future and turn the page, or close the book on that story line.

Abdelkader was able to rub it in just a bit more recording a hat trick in the win against his former coach.

“You know it’s our old coach,” Abdelkader said. “There’s pride, but it’s hockey. It’s business and people move on, people go to different places. We turn the page now.

“It felt good to win, but now it’s just going to be the Toronto Maple Leafs,” Abdelkader continued. “It’s not going to be the Toronto Maple Leafs and Babs.”

After 10 seasons behind the Wings’ bench, where he led the team to the playoffs every season, Babcock landed an eight-year, $50 million deal with Toronto making him the highest paid coach in the NHL.

Detroit’s final offer to Babcock, who made $2 million last season, was $4 million for each of the next five seasons. The offer the Wings general manager Ken Holland made prior to that was a four-year deal worth $3.25 million a season.

The team promoted Jeff Blashill, who had spent the last three seasons in Grand Rapids after one season as Babcock’s assistant in Detroit.

“We’re focused on our group and he’s focused on his,” Abdelkader said. “He was a big part of this organization for 10 years, had some great years here. It’s always tough to turn the page.

“I know he had an opportunity there in Toronto and he jumped on it,” Abdelkader continued. “It was perfect timing for Blash to come up because he had been so successfully in Grand Rapids. He’s going to be a great coach for us. We’re all really excited. The future looks bright.”

The Leafs, who have won 13 Stanley Cups, that last of which came in 1967, last made the playoffs in 2013, losing in the first round to the Boston Bruins in a heartbreaking Game 7.

The last trip to the postseason prior to that was 2004.

“The storyline is the Red Wings play the Leafs, two Original Six franchises, one that’s holding its rightful place and one that’s trying to get back to where it should be,” Babcock said. “I enjoyed my time here. I was looking forward to this game being over so I don’t have to talk about it anymore. But I’m enjoying being the Leafs coach, too. It’s energizing. It’s way different. And it’s fun.”

The Leafs finished 27th in the overall league standings last season.

“I met with Blash (Thursday) night,” Babcock said. “I know he’s enjoying being the Red Wings coach and he should be the Red Wings coach. He’s a Michigan guy. He’s done a lot to get to this opportunity and he’s got a good team. He’s going to have fun with that and I’m going to have fun coaching the Leafs.”

Babcock, who leaves as the Wings’ all-time winningest coach, took over a winning organization and helped maintain its success.

He guided Detroit to winning the Stanley Cup in 2008 and then reached Game 7 of the Cup finals the following year. He’s also the only coach to guide a team to the playoffs every year in the salary-cap era.

“With him being the coach it’s a little different, just standing back there, than when we were playing against (Valtteri Filppula) down in Tampa Bay,” Jimmy Howard said. “It was a little bit sweeter when we got to beat him.”

Under Babcock, the Wings were eliminated in the first round of the playoffs in three of the last four seasons and haven’t made it out of the second round of the playoffs since 2009.

“I don’t think so,” Abdelkader said when asked if they want to win more to show they can do it without Babcock. “I think the media makes a bigger deal out of it than it really needs to be. His first time him coming back to the Joe was big, for him coming back to where his family was raised for 10 years, where he called home for so long. For us it was going about our business.”

Larkin approaching his NHL debut like ‘it’s just another game’

Detroit Red Wings left wing Teemu Pulkkinen (56) and center Dylan Larkin, right, celebrate after the Red Wings defeated the Pittsburgh Penguins 6-1 in a preseason NHL hockey game in Detroit on Thursday, Sept. 24, 2015. Both players had two goals apiece. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

Detroit Red Wings left wing Teemu Pulkkinen (56) and center Dylan Larkin, right, celebrate after the Red Wings defeated the Pittsburgh Penguins 6-1 in a preseason NHL hockey game in Detroit on Thursday, Sept. 24, 2015. Both players had two goals apiece. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)


DETROIT >> Dylan Larkin is taking a pretty simple approach to his first NHL game.

“It’s just another game,” Larkin said Friday morning after the Wings’ morning skate at Joe Louis Arena as they prepared to host the Toronto Maple Leafs later that night. “It’s pretty exciting, home opener, playing against Toronto and coach Babcock is going to be exciting, there’s going to be a real buzz. I’m just trying to get ready to do what I need to do.”

Larkin played in five preseason games against veteran lineups that included Pittsburgh’s Sidney Crosby, Chicago’s Jonathan Toews and Boston’s Patrice Bergeron. He totaled three goals and an assist.

“I couldn’t help but to just smile,” Larkin said when he was told the news he had made the team out of training camp. “It was exciting. To call my parents and tell them I was playing Friday was probably one of the best feelings I’ve ever had. We’re here, it’s Friday and I’m just trying to
get ready to play.”

He’s the first teenager in 25 years to make their NHL debut on opening night. Mike Sillinger was the last Wing to do so.

“I feel ready,” Larkin said. “I think my whole life I’ve been dreaming about this. Going through camp has got me ready for this.”

Larkin will play on the top line Henrik Zetterberg and Justin Abdelkader.

“It’s pretty easy to play with him,” Larkin said of playing with Zetterberg. “I try and just focus on getting open and I know he’s going to find me at some point. As far as him being a mentor, a leader, it’s unbelievable just watching him in practice. He makes things so easy for me.

“He makes it pretty comfortable,” Larkin added. “He’s such a nice guy and he always has a smile on his face around the rink. Ever since I can remember watching the Red Wings he’s been on the team. Just to play with him and be here tonight is something I’ll never forget.”

Franzen ready to return to lineup, feels like he hasn’t played in a year or two

Detroit Red Wings left wing Johan Franzen (93) shoots as Pittsburgh Penguins' Sergei Gonchar (55) defends during the second period of a preseason NHL hockey game in Detroit on Thursday, Sept. 24, 2015. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

Detroit Red Wings left wing Johan Franzen (93) shoots as Pittsburgh Penguins’ Sergei Gonchar (55) defends during the second period of a preseason NHL hockey game in Detroit on Thursday, Sept. 24, 2015. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)


DETROIT >> It hasn’t been quite a year yet since Johan Franzen last played in a regular season game, but for him it feels like an eternity.

“I’ve just been working out all summer so I’m looking forward to it,” Franzen said Friday morning after the Wings’ morning skate at Joe Louis Arena as they prepared to host the Toronto Maple Leafs later that night. “I missed hockey a lot.

“I don’t know when I got hurt last season, but it feels like I haven’t played in a year or two,” Franzen added. “At least that’s how it feels. I’m really excited to get started tonight. Hopefully I won’t get too nervous or too excited that I forget about the details. It’s going to be fun. It’s going to be great.”

Franzen has suffered multi concussions in his career, the last of which occurred last season after a blind-side hit by Edmonton’s Rob Klinkhammer last January. He finished the game, but began experiencing concussion-like symptoms the next day.

He didn’t return the rest of the season.

“Not really,” Franzen said when asked if he ever thought there was a chance he’d not return playing. “I was in a dark place for a while, but it was never really on my mind that it would stay like that forever. My focus was getting back to playing. I was like that the whole time.”

Franzen, 35, was cleared to resume playing prior to the start of training camp.

He said up until the time of training camp that his headaches weren’t completely gone, but they’re not as severe.

“Not too nervous, but you can get a little too excited because it’s the first game and you forget about what you’re supposed to do out there,” Franzen said. “Hopefully I can keep that under control and play a solid game.”

Franzen, who has been limited to just 128 regular season games over the last three seasons, played in 33 games a year ago, picking up seven goals and 15 assists.

He’s skating on a line with Teemu Pulkkinen and centered by Riley Sheahan.

Also prior to training camp, Franzen, who has 187 goals and 182 assists in 600 regular season games with the Wings, said that he wasn’t going to think about the possibility of suffering another concussion.

Franzen has 42 goals and 39 assists in 107 playoff games.

Cleary placed on waivers; could be heading to Grand Rapids if he clears by noon on Thursday

Detroit Red Wings left wing Daniel Cleary (11) trips Boston Bruins center Alex Khokhlachev (76) during the first period of an NHL hockey game in Detroit, Saturday, Sept. 26, 2015. (AP Photo/Jose Juarez)

Detroit Red Wings left wing Daniel Cleary (11) trips Boston Bruins center Alex Khokhlachev (76) during the first period of an NHL hockey game in Detroit, Saturday, Sept. 26, 2015. (AP Photo/Jose Juarez)


DETROIT >> Daniel Cleary’s days with the Wings appear to be over after being waived. If he clears by noon Thursday he can be assigned to Grand Rapids.

“He’s on waivers right now, so we have a 24-hour period,” first-year Wings coach Jeff Blashill said. “We’ll see at noon how that goes. I don’t want to speculate on anything besides he’s on waivers right now.”

The move was done to clear a roster spot for Jakub Kindl, who’s been sidelined with an eye infection.

Cleary, 35, signed a one-year deal last month worth $950,000. If he’s assigned to the Griffins his entire salary come off the cap.

Larkin will start on Wings’ top line Friday night

Detroit Red Wings center Dylan Larkin celebrates his goal against the Pittsburgh Penguins in the first period of a preseason NHL hockey game in Detroit Thursday, Sept. 24, 2015. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

Detroit Red Wings center Dylan Larkin celebrates his goal against the Pittsburgh Penguins in the first period of a preseason NHL hockey game in Detroit Thursday, Sept. 24, 2015. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)


DETROIT >> Dylan Larkin will start on the top alone on the wing with Justin Abdelkader and Henrik Zetterberg, centering.

“We think Dylan Larkin is a very good player, that’s why he’s on the opening night roster and as such we’re going to put him in positions to hopefully be successful,” Blashill said.

Brad Richards will center the second line with Tomas Tatar and Gustav Nyquist, while Riley Sheahan center Johan Franzen and Teemu Pulkkinen. Luke Glendening centers the fourth line with Drew Miller and Landon Ferraro.

“I’d like to have four lines that can play and four lines that we feel real confident on the ice with in both defensive and offensive situations,” first-year coach Jeff Blashill said. “We try to match our lines up with some speed, some skill, some size and some net front. So there’s a lot of things that go into combinations.

Tomas Jurco and Joakim Andersson will be healthy scratches.

The defensemen pairings are Jonathan Ericsson-Niklas Kronwall; Kyle Quincey-Mike Green and Brendan Smith-Jakub Kindl.

Blashill tabs Howard to start opening night; Mrazek goes Saturday

Detroit Red Wings goalie Jimmy Howard celebrates after beating the Toronto Maple Leafs 4-2 in a NHL hockey game in Detroit Friday, Oct. 2, 2015. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

Detroit Red Wings goalie Jimmy Howard celebrates after beating the Toronto Maple Leafs 4-2 in a NHL hockey game in Detroit Friday, Oct. 2, 2015. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)


DETROIT >> First-year coach Jeff Blashill didn’t waste any time announcing his starting lineup for Friday night’s season opener against the Toronto Maple Leafs.

And his starting goalie will be Jimmy Howard.

“I think there are lots of things that go into the decision, including stats and we do as much research as we can to come up with the best decision possible,” Blashill said when asked why Howard got the nod over Petr Mrazek.

Mrazek will get the start Saturday in Carolina.

“They’ll both continue to play in a lot of the back to back situations we have this month,” Blashill said. “I would suspect they both will get an opportunity in those situations.

“We think both of them can give us great goaltending,” Blashill added. “For multiple reasons we decided to have one start Friday and one start Saturday. We could reverse it and I’d feel just as confident going into those games that we’re going to get great goaltending.”

This will be Howard’s sixth season-opening start.

Both goalies had very similar numbers in four preseason appearances. Howard was 3-0-0 with a 2.00 goals-against average and a .942 save percentage, while Mrazek was 2-0-1 with a 1.99 GAA and a .939 save percentage.

“You always reserve the right, things do change, but I plan going in that we feel real confident both will get games in those back-to-back situations,” Blashill said. “And how we do that will depend on a lot of things, different types of statistical information.”

Detroit plays back-to-back games every weekend during October.

Howard began last season as the Wings’ No. 1 goalie and put in an All-Star performance in the first half, going 16-7-7 with a goals-against average of 2.08 and a save percentage of .921.

But after being sidelined with a torn groin for more than a month he was never the same goalie when he returned.

While he was out, Mrazek went 10-1-1 and eventually got named the starter for the postseason.