DETROIT – Riley Sheahan scored his first career game-winning goal Friday. But more importantly, the Red Wings’ rookie center won’t have to listen to his crazy Canadiens-loving cousin.
“I have some family in the crowd and they’re big Habs fans so I get a little something to rub in their face now so it’ll be fun,” Sheahan said after the Red Wings posted a 4-1 win over Montreal at Joe Louis Arena.
Sheahan was among four different Wings to score in the first meeting between the new Atlantic Division rivals. Henrik Zetterberg (PPG), Niklas Kronwall and Gustav Nyquist also tallied for the Wings, who have now won three of their last four games.
Sheahan is a young man who really looks like he belongs on the Wings’ roster, despite being in just his second full pro season since leaving the University of Notre Dame after his junior campaign.
For the second straight game, Sheahan centered the Wings’ second line flanked by rookie forwards Tomas Tatar and Tomas Jurco. And for the second straight game, the Sheahan line made a huge difference with their youthful enthusiasm and energy.
“They played as good as they did the other night,” defenseman Jonathan Ericsson said. “They’re creating stuff nearly every shift that they’re out there so that’s really good for us to have four lines going.”
Sheahan’s goal, his second of the season, came midway through the second period. Streaking down the left wing, the 6-foot-2 center snapped a rising wrist shot from the circle that beat Montreal goalie Carey Price high over his left catching glove. The Habs defenseman moved his stick a smidge, which left a lane open for Sheahan to snap a laser into the back of the net.
“Sheahan, pro shot there, heavy body, knows how to play,” Red Wings coach Mike Babcock said. “I played him right down the stretch, the last minute there, I just thought he had played well tonight and earned the opportunity.”
Told about his coach’s confidence in him, Sheahan deflected the compliment to include his linemates.
“The other guys are doing an awesome job so it’s nice that he feels confident that he can put us out there,” he said. “I mean with the injuries they have it’s unfortunate but I think we gotta step in and try to help as much as we can and I think we’re doing that.”
Since the disaster against the St. Louis Blues on Monday, the Red Wings have put together perhaps their finest back to back home games this season, beginning with Wednesday’s 5-4 shootout win over the defending Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks.
“I don’t think we were as physical or brought as much energy at the start of the game," Ericsson said. "I think it felt more like a chess game at first. Obviously, we don’t know these guys very well but I think for 60 minutes we played a better game against Chicago. Just a matter of finding a way to win right now and we did that tonight.”
Some believe Sheahan is running away with his chances and should remain in the Wings’ lineup ever when some injured players return. His performance certainly might make it difficult for a guy like Joakim Andersson to win his job back once the 24-year-old center returns from a lower-body injury.
“I think a lot of these guys who are coming up have done a really good job for us, really taking off on the opportunities that they’re getting,” Ericsson said. “I don’t know how it works with the (salary) cap and all of that but I’m just glad that I don’t have to make the call on who’s playing or not because when we get the bodies back I don’t know who will be out of the lineup.”
Along with his Grand Rapids teammates, Sheahan has been outstanding in his stint with the big club. In 11 games, he has two goals and six points with a plus-6 rating. Last spring, he led all AHL rookies with 13 assists in the minor-league playoffs for the Griffins, who defeated the Syracuse Crunch in the Calder Cup finals.
Whatever happens to him in the coming days, Sheahan can feel confident in knowing that he has done more than enough to impress the Wings coaching staff.
“You get to know the guys better, you get more confidence, you definitely get more comfortable in the locker room,” Sheahan said. “So I think that’s the biggest thing because then it can translate onto the ice.”
Follow Bill Roose on Twitter | @Bill_Roose
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