Senators-Red Wings Preview
The Detroit Red Wings are getting older, but expectations haven't lessened for one of the NHL's most storied - and successful - franchises.
Meanwhile, the Ottawa Senators hope a former Detroit assistant can help them bounce back from a disappointing season.
Following a record 20th consecutive playoff appearance, the Red Wings open the 2011-12 season at home against the Senators and new coach Paul MacLean on Friday night.
Since winning the Stanley Cup in 2008 and coming within one win of repeating the following year, Detroit has lost in consecutive seasons to San Jose in the conference semifinals, falling in seven games last year.
The Red Wings, who went 47-25-10 in 2009-10 and won the Central Division for the ninth time in 10 seasons, are expected to challenge again for the Stanley Cup, and for some players, time is of the essence.
At its core, Detroit remains an veteran squad.
A key factor will be Pavel Datsyuk, who hopes for a healthy season after being limited to 56 games. He still finished third on the team with 59 points, including 23 goals.
The Red Wings did try to upgrade the defense in front of goaltender Jimmy Howard, who had a 2.79 goals-against average - a half-goal higher than the previous season. Howard is entering the first season of a two-year, $4.5 million deal signed in February.
To replace Rafalski, Detroit signed Ian White, who split last season between Calgary and San Jose, and 6-foot-5, 228-pound Mike Commodore, who will add some size and grit on the blue line.
Last season, the Red Wings ranked 23rd in the league after giving up 2.89 goals per game, slipping from seventh in 2009-10.
"We've got to be better without the puck," coach Mike Babcock said. "Our defensive play and our penalty killing wasn't up to par last year at home and we ended up giving too many goals. That cost us in the regular season and it cost us at playoff time."
"We weren't overly aggressive in free agency because we think a lot of these guys are up to the challenge," general manager Ken Holland said. "We're going from a team leaning toward older guys to counting on more 20-something guys."
The Senators will rely heavily on youth - 12 players on their roster are 25 or younger - after going 32-40-10 in 2009-10 and firing coach Cory Clouston.
MacLean, an assistant under Babcock the last six seasons, will be challenged to spark an offense that finished only ahead of New Jersey in scoring with 190 goals.
"He understands we have a young team and mistakes are going to be made, but if we can be a good skating team, you can make up for those mistakes," captain Daniel Alfredsson said.
"A lot of it is puck movement, too. On the back end, we have a lot of skill that can move up quick, which allows your team to be quick, too. If you can move the puck quick and transition quick and if we backcheck hard that allows us to transition quicker, we'll be a fast team."
The 38-year-old Alfredsson played a career-low 54 games last season because of back problems and will have his own concerns about staying healthy. He finished last season with 14 goals and 17 assists.
Craig Anderson will start the season in net after being acquired from Colorado in February. He went 11-5-1 with a 2.05 GAA for the Senators before receiving a four-year, $12.75 million contract extension.
While expectations outside the organization may be low, there is some excitement over Swedish rookie Mika Zibanejad, the team's first pick and sixth overall in June's draft who survived the final round of cuts to make the team.
"He's a powerful skater and strong on the puck," Alfredsson said of the 18-year-old center.
The Red Wings have won three straight and nine of 12 against the Senators, including a 7-5 victory on Feb. 2. Franzen had five goals in the game and has eight in his last three contests versus Ottawa.