DETROIT, Michigan -- "We're counting on our young guys this year to contribute more," said coach Dave Lewis. "We think they're ready for it."
The younger Red Wings certainly seemed to be ready in this year's home opener against the Los Angeles Kings. Jiri Fischer and Pavel Datsyuk both contributed goals. But, since this is Detroit, a veteran team, it took a veteran to put the game away. Captain Steve Yzerman's goal gave the Wings a 3-2 victory over Los Angeles.
Former Wing Sean Avery started his usual abrasive style of play early, trying to stir up some trouble with Derian Hatcher. Hatcher was too sensible to take the bait. The Red Wings came to play hockey, and play they did.
Detroit's strong pressure in the Los Angeles zone caused Luc Robitaille to take a holding penalty against his former teammates 4:27 into the game. Detroit's power play unit controlled the play very well. Offseason acquisition Ray Whitney did an excellent job of holding the puck in the zone against the Kings' clearing attempts, but the Wings didn't score until their next power play opportunity.
When Avery went into the box for tripping, the Red Wings were prepared for the man-advantage. The Kings' penalty-killers were focused on trying to interrupt Brett Hull's and Pavel Datsyuk's passing, so no one noticed Jiri Fischer sneaking towards the net. Datsyuk threaded a pass through a few pairs of legs, and Fischer one-timed the puck past Roman Cechmanek to put Detroit on the board at 10:10.
The Red Wings seemed to back off a little bit in the second period, and the Kings were more than willing to take advantage of that situation. Their shot total, a measly six shots in the first, skyrocketed to fourteen in the second period alone. Dominik Hasek looked comfortable handling most of the shots (he likes a lot of work, remember). The only one which didn't look right was the one that got by him.
Eric Belanger shot the puck on net from the left circle. The puck bounced off Hasek's helmet and fell towards the right side of the net. All the skaters were scrambling to grab for the puck and take each other out of the play. In the confusion, Belanger was able to circle behind the net and stuff the puck in from the right side to tie the game with 7:49 left in the second.
Detroit came out to start the third period with quite a bit more energy than they had in the second. Avery tried to start trouble then with Kirk Maltby, but then Darren McCarty drew Avery into taking his third penalty of the game. The Grind Line's energy spread to the rest of the team, and shots on net were plentiful, but Cechmanek stood his ground.
Zigmund Palffy gave the Kings a one-goal lead midway through the third. Jozef Stumpel was held up by Hatcher, but he managed to center a pass from the left corner. Palffy was on hand to lift the puck high over the sprawling Hasek.
Nicklas Lidstrom took a hooking call with 7:38 left to play, leaving an even tighter margin of time for the Red Wings to try to get back in the game. Their hopes were fulfilled when Lubomir Visnovsky was sent to the box for tripping, and the power play unit could get to work.
The passing work was incredible: crisp, accurate, and completely out of reach of the Kings' penalty killers. Hull passed from the top of the left circle to Whitney at the blue line. Whitney sent the puck across to Lidstrom at the right side, and Lidstrom one-timed the puck towards the net. Datsyuk tipped the puck on its way through, deflecting it past Cechmanek.
Just as everyone was about to settle in for overtime, Yzerman decided he wanted to open his 21st season in style. He scooped the puck away from the Detroit net and sent it ahead to Whitney, who was moving up through center ice. Whitney carried into the Kings' zone, wheeled away from three defending players, and dropped the puck back to Yzerman. The Captain sent a wrist shot high over Cechmanek with less than two seconds remaining""and the crowd went wild.
The Red Wings outshot the Kings by 38 to 23 over the course of the game. Detroit's next game will be on the road Saturday night against the Ottawa Senators.
Notes: Los Angeles defenseman Mattias Norstrom left the game with an arm injury in the first period.