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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.

Kindl excited for new chance, new role, under new coach

DETROIT >> If there was any player that needed a fresh start it could definitely be Jakub Kindl.

And he got that when his former coach, Mike Babcock, left for the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Wings hired Jeff Blashill.

“When you look around, it’s not just me,” Kindl said. “I think we’re all on the same page. New coaching style, he’s got new plans, he’s got new visions. I’m just here to … again, let’s hope I have a bigger chance.

“I’m just trying to enjoy as much as I can,” Kindl continued. “I’ve been here long enough so I know what position I’m into. It’s a fresh start. It’s a new season for everybody, not just for me.”

Kindl could never seem to play his way out of Babcock’s doghouse the last two seasons with his lack of competitiveness always being cited as to the reason why many times he was a healthy scratch.

“I always try to have confidence, even when I wasn’t playing enough,” Kindl said. “Obviously, it wasn’t easy for me. You may think you have a good game and you still sit out for next time and just keep going back and forth. That was in the past. I’m just looking for a new challenge.”

A fine example of how things had gone for Kindl under Babcock came last season. After sitting out a month he returned for one game and registered a goal, an assist and was a plus-1. He was a healthy scratch the next nine games and didn’t make his way back into the lineup until the regular-season finale.

“How often (does) it happen a guy puts up two points or have a good game and the next thing you know he sits for 10 games,” Kindl said. “But that’s in the past. I don’t want to have that in my mind. I’m just excited for this new chance.”

Kindl, 28, also appeared in just one of the seven games in the first round playoff series with Tampa Bay, the series finale.

So far things appear to be heading in the right direction for Kindl, who’s battling for a spot on the third blue line pairing with Kyle Quincey and Brendan Smith. He’s got a goal, two assists and is a plus-2 in his first two preseason games.

“I think every year is different for every player, in both ways,” Blashill said. “Sometimes when it hasn’t gone as well there’s a chance to have a good year and vice versa.

“You can never rest on your laurels in this league because somebody is always chasing you from behind,” Blashill continued. “I think Kindl has good ability, he needs to continue to execute at a high level. He has so far.”

Kindl, who had a career-high five goals in just 35 games last year, is no stranger to getting power play time, averaging just under two minutes a game last season.

It’s on the penalty kill he’s beginning to learn the ropes on.

“I thought I already retired from the PK but no,” Kindl said. “It’s good. I understand we’re not going to have (Niklas Kronwall) and (Jonathan Ericsson) both play big minutes to make sure they don’t get hurt. I had the chance to play for a little bit but again, it’s good that Blash is giving me a chance to play, whether it’s the PK or the power play. It seems like he likes to play the players everywhere.”

Blashill has liked what he’s seen so far from Kindl.

“He’s made plays on the power play when there weren’t plays to be made,” Blashill said. “I think he’s done real good job. He’s gone back for pucks. But I think the biggest thing with Kindl is to get back to pucks and do a real good job of breaking the puck out, not that he can’t defend, but like lots of guys, you’re way better if you just get the puck out of your own zone.”

Kindl finished with 13 points last season.

“I always try to stay confident, even when I wasn’t playing in the past, but again, it’s not easy,” Kindl said. “So I know how to deal with those things. But again, I’m even more comfortable this year and coming to the rink even more relaxed than I did in the past and enjoying myself.”

Larkin doing everything he can to make Wings’ decision a tough one saying, “That’s my goal.”

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 didn’t hesitate at all when asked if he’s doing all he can to make the Wings’ decision on where he starts the season.

“Yeah, that’s my goal,” Larkin said after Detroit’s 6-1 win over the Pittsburgh Penguins Thursday night at Joe Louis Arena. “I think every game I’m trying to get stronger and really trying to work on my team game and in the defensive zone and keep moving forward.”

Larkin finished with a pair of goals in the victory in just over 15 minutes of ice time.

“I couldn’t help but smile,” Larkin said about first goal with the Wings. “It was a real cool feeling to hear that goal horn and put it in the back of the night. Somehow I’m going to remember that for a long time.

“Being a hometown kid you grew up being a fan,” Larkin continued. “I don’t know if I relate to them or what. I think they’re really rooting for me as a hometown kid. That’s pretty cool to see all that support. I must have had hundreds of family and friends from Waterford here today, from all over Michigan. It was pretty cool to look up in the stands and see a whole lot of familiar faces in my first game at the Joe.”

He also had one disallowed when Tyler Bertuzzi was called for being in the crease.

“He’s got to be better today than somebody else that would have that spot,” first-year coach Jeff Blashill said when asked if Larkin could make this roster. “Better means lots of things. Better means playing a good 200-foot game. Better means within the role that he would be competing for.

“It might be a production thing, it might be a penalty-kill thing, it might a power-play thing,” Blashill continued. “But I don’t think he’s alone. I think there’s a whole group of young guys who are starting to push to wanting to be NHL players. But I think that’s a great thing. Ken Holland talked about it at training camp. You’re going to have lots of injuries throughout the year, and you have to rely on your organization’s depth and I think the fact that a young guy makes the team out of camp or not, the organization’s depth is something that can provide us an opportunity for success.”

Larkin, who slipped to Detroit at 15th overall in the 2014 NHL Entry Draft, is regarded as the Wings’ top prospect, even ahead of Anthony Mantha, who struggled his first year as a pro in Grand Rapids.

All the speculation began when the Waterford native decided to leave the University of Michigan after one season and sign a three-year entry level contract with the Wings.

After signing the deal he joined the Grand Rapids Griffins, playing on an amateur tryout contract, just in time for their Western Conference finals series with Utica.

In six games he had three goals and two assists under the watchful eye of Blashill.

He then had a goal and four assists at the Prospects Tournament prior to training camp as well.

But like many in the Wings’ organization, they really young players to mature in the American Hockey League before joining the NHL club on a fulltime basis, just ask Gustav Nyquist.

“Again, I think Dylan has a maturity level way beyond his years,” Blashill said. “That’s one thing that struck me right away when he came to play for us last year in Grand Rapids. He has a real maturity level to him. He’s got a real good quiet confidence. He doesn’t have that fake bravado confidence. He’s just a confident kid, but a down-to-earth kid. He doesn’t let things bother him and he’s very competitive. That’s not to say there’s not errors, yes, he does need to continue to grow in, but sometimes that competitiveness gets the best of him. But he’s a real, real mature person.”

Larkin, who’s a two-way center, was the unanimous winner of the Big Ten’s freshman of the year award, leading the conference’s first-year players in goals (15), assists (32) and points (47) in 35 games with the Wolverines. He also was a plus-18.

He also led Michigan with 15 power play points (six goals) and with 151 shots on goal.

At the World Juniors, he led Team USA in goals (five), points (seven) and tied in plus-minus (plus-seven) in five games, which helped Larkin earn a spot on the U.S. World Championship roster, where he had an assist in 10 games.

Larkin, who is very competitive and plays a 200-foot game, back checks hard and is conscientious defensively, has said he won’t be disappointed if the team decides to have him play a full season with the Griffins.

Tatar shines with new linemate Richards netting three goals in 4-1 win over Chicago

Detroit Red Wings' Tomas Tatar (21), of Slovakia, is pursued by Chicago Blackhawks’ Bryan Bickell (29) during the third period of a preseason NHL hockey game at Joe Louis Arena Wednesday, Sept. 23, 2015, in Detroit. Tatar scored three goals in the Red Wings 4-1 win. (AP Photo/Duane Burleson)

Detroit Red Wings’ Tomas Tatar (21), of Slovakia, is pursued by Chicago Blackhawks’ Bryan Bickell (29) during the third period of a preseason NHL hockey game at Joe Louis Arena Wednesday, Sept. 23, 2015, in Detroit. Tatar scored three goals in the Red Wings 4-1 win. (AP Photo/Duane Burleson)

DETROIT >> If this is how the regular season is going to go for Tomas Tatar it’s going to be a very successful offensive one.

Tatar scored three goals, the last coming in an empty net, to lead the Detroit Red Wings over the Chicago Blackhawks, 4-1, Wednesday at Joe Louis Arena.

“Every season after the one before you try and change yourself to be better,” Tatar said. “At the end I want to one of those guys like Hank or Pav. I want to be a leader. I would like to pick up as much experience from those guys. They’re great hockey players. They’re great examples for us young hockey guys.

“We have lots and lots to learn,” Tatar added. “Every day for me when I’m watching those guys they are like learning days. Those guys are unreal. There is lots to take from those guys. I have lots to learn defensively and offensively. I like to watch those guys.”

It was also his first game with his newest linemate Brad Richards.

“Richie is a great player,” Tatar said. “He made some nice plays out there. I’m just hoping we can save a few of those for the regular season.”

Richards assisted on all three of Tatar’s goals.

Tatar and Richards worked a nice give-and-go in the Blackhawks’ zone for the first goal of the game.

“Brad is a really smart player,” Tatar said. “I saw him open there and as soon as I slid him with the puck two guys jumped on him and he passed it to me back and I shot it and it and it went into the net.”

Tatar and Richards each finished a plus-3.

“He knows how to score,” Richards said. “I like that. He finds ways to score. One of them was a great shot from the slot and the other one he’s going to the net and he’s in a hard area, even though he’s not the biggest guy.

“To score in this league – he got 29 last year – you can’t just shoot pucks from the perimeter and score anymore,” Richards added. “He obviously knows how to get to the net and when he’s there, he knows what to do with it. He’s giving and going. He’s a heady player. So far it’s been fun to play with him.”

This is exactly the kind of chemistry first-year coach Jeff Blashill was hoping to see out of that line.

“Tats is a real, real talented player who competes extremely hard, has a lot of confidence and wants to win badly,” Blashill said. “He’s got a lot of attributes that make you a real good player and I think he’s continued to progress and we’ll work together to make sure his game continues to progress.

“We want him to be an elite player in the league,” Blashill continued. “He scored 29 goals last year and there’s very few that had more than him, so he’s developing into that and we’re going to continue to help him.”

The Wings signed Richards on the first day of free agency after he had just won the Stanley Cup with Chicago.

“He’s a really smart player,” Tatar said. “I knew I’m going to have fun with him. I hope we stay healthy and play together.”

Tomas Jurco, who’s replacing Darren Helm on the line after he was injured on the first day of training camp, also finished a plus-3.

“It’s a tough game,” Tatar said. “It’s the preseason. We’re still working on the system. We have lots of stuff to work on. I didn’t feel the best on the ice. I found spots that I need to work on and be better in the system.

“We’ll take the win for sure,” Tatar added. “We battled. We’re still in learning mode. This was our first real game for us and this group. It was a good start. We have to get into it. We’re happy we won the game.”

Tatar is in the second year of a three-year deal that has an average salary-cap hit of $2.75 million.

“They seem to be playing good, they’re two real skilled players and I think they like to play a skilled game, they like to make plays, which I’m good with as long as we’re limiting the turnovers,” Blashill said of Richards and Tatar. “We had too many turnovers tonight probably in general. But I think they’re two guys that want to play that skilled type game so there’s definitely chemistry developing there.”

Helm hopes to be ready for season opener after latest injury setback


Darren Helm has been here before.

But as far as his past injuries goes, this latest setback is in a whole different category.

“I was thinking about my injuries lately,” Helm said Monday. “I feel like this isn’t really a hockey injury, just an unlucky situation that I was in. I’m going to chalk this one up to bad luck.

“I haven’t seen this happen ever, as long as I’ve been playing,” Helm continued. “(It’s) unfortunate. Bad luck. Move on.”

On Friday, just minutes into the first drill at training camp in Traverse City, Helm and prospect Jerome Verrier got crossed up during a drill and collided.

Helm suffered a Grade 1 shoulder separation and continues to go through concussion protocol. Verrier suffered a broken right leg and also a concussion.

“I didn’t even get my head up quick enough to see him,” Helm recalled. “I was kind of looking back for a pass. I was expecting him to be going up the other side. Somewhere between there, the drill got kind of messed up and both of us were going down the same lane.

“I remember everything,” Helm added. “I remember (coach Jeff Blashill) explained the drill, I remember going down, getting on the wall, coming up with (Luke Glendening), him passing it to me and just running into a wall and kind of just lying there for a little bit. I remember everything and I wasn’t knocked out so I’m happy about that.”

Helm is expected to miss two-to-four weeks.

“It wasn’t my ideal start for the season,” Helm said. “But move forward. I got some time. Better now, I guess, than playoffs down the road or down the stretch that I need to be playing. Hopefully I can get back for home opener. If not, then right after that. Just move forward.”

Helm has suffered concussions before, the last sidelined him roughly a month during the 20-13-14 season.

“I’ve been feeling a little off, a little bit of a headache,” Helm said. “I think we’re going to jump on the bike (Tuesday) and see how that feels, get the heart rate going, take it from there.

“For me personally, I think it would be my head,” added Helm when asked if the concussion or shoulder injury was his biggest concern. “I don’t want to keep getting concussions. Obviously that’s an issue down the road. But whatever one takes the longest to heal, that’s going to be the biggest concern.”

Helm has a laundry list of injuries which include groin, broken nose and knee.

He also lacerated tendons in his forearm when he was cut by a skate blade in the playoffs. He injured his back while lifting weights.

Helm played his most regular season games, 75, a year ago since appearing in 82 during the 2010-11 season.

“I think from what I know concussions are all different and there’s no set timeline in returning and I just hope that I can progress quickly and I can get back and play and that there’s no long-term issues,” Helm said. “I’ve had one, one diagnosed one, so I’m not completely in the dark when it comes to concussions. But everyone can be different and every one can have their own kind of timetable, sidelines and setbacks.”

The timing could not have been worse since Helm was scheduled to skate on a line with Tomas Tatar and Brad Richards, who the Wings signed on the first day of free agency.

“I was really looking forward to playing with them in camp and I’ll be just as excited to hopefully get in a spot to play with them again,” Helm said. “Camp’s usually a very important time of the year to kind of get into game mode, season mode, and kind of get going, so it’s going to take me probably a little bit extra time to get into that spot where I want to be. I hope I can do it quickly and play with them right away but if not, then I’ll have to try to work my way back into that position. That’s the way the game goes sometimes.”

Blashill: “Jurcs is one of those guys that’s in a spot and he knows it”

Tomas Jurco has officially been put on notice.tomas-jurco-producing-for-red-wings-d3a36ee5d93990d0

“Jurcs is one of those guys that’s in a spot and he knows it,” Detroit Red Wings coach Jeff Blashill said after the second day of training camp in Traverse City. “He’s had an opportunity to play up here for a year and a half, basically.

“When he left us in Grand Rapids, my second year, he was a point per game in the league,” Blashill continued. “He was starting to evolve into a real go-to player. I think the first couple of years he survived and I think he’d like to take that next step. But in order to do that, he has to earn that ice time. He knows that.”

Blashill appears to be giving Jurco ample opportunity to show if he’s an NHL player or not, slotting him on a line with Brad Richards and Tomas Tatar after Darren Helm was injured on Friday.

“For now, then probably (Sunday) and maybe the red and white game,” Blashill said when asked if that’s where he plans to keep Jurco.

Jurco struggled mightily last season in Detroit.

Despite playing in 27 more regular season games than he did his first season, he scored five fewer goals. Jurco had three goals and 15 assists last season, compared to eight goals and seven assists in the 2013-14 campaign.

While in Grand Rapids, Juro had 27 goals and 47 assists in 106 games over two seasons.

“He’s got real good speed,” Blashill said. “He’s got a good skill set. He’s got size. So those are three real good assets. I hope he can continue and play like he did (Saturday).”

Blashill took over behind the bench for Mike Babcock, who had coached the Wings for the past 10 season.

“Providing more offense is the main thing for me,” Jurco said in the days leading up to training camp. “I’ve been working hard all summer, to get stronger, faster, so I think it’s going to help me.

“I think (confidence) was one of the biggest factors for me,” Jurco added. “It was hard for me to not be scoring as much as I was used to before and not playing as much, so of course when you do that for a few months it’s hard to keep your confidence high. Of course it was one of the factors, but it’s a new season and I’m ready for it.”

Jurco, who missed eight games last season with a back injury, went 39 games without a goal a year ago.

Despite his struggles he was only a healthy scratch in five games with Babcock, who used Jurco more in a grinding role.

“I think Blash knows what kind of player I was before,” Jurco said. “He had a chance to see it, so he knows I can be a different player, too. I’m not saying he’s going to put me on the power play and expects me to score 30 goals, but I think he wants me to work hard and work my way up to maybe first three lines so I can provide offense. It’s going to be up to me. Just the good thing is Blash knows I can do it.”