New season, new conference for Red Wings
DETROIT -- The Red Wings are about to embark on a whole new adventure -- the wild, wild East.
A year after the lockout-shortened season had the Wings playing only Western Conference teams, they're now in the Atlantic Division of the Eastern Conference.
The new schedule means that the Wings will still see their former rivals from the West, but they won't be spending quite as much time on flights to and from the West Ccoast.
"We're going to do less traveling," defenseman Jonathan Ericsson said. "I think everyone in here is really excited about it, playing some new teams, too.
"I think that's really good for all the fans. Good for us, too, because it's not that fun to play the same team over and over and over again. I think everyone's looking forward to it."
The division and conference have changed but the goal remains the same -- winning the Stanley Cup.
The Wings showed last year that they could still compete despite the loss of longtime captain and future Hall of Fame defenseman Nick Lidstrom.
They beat the higher-seeded Anaheim Ducks in the first round and extended the eventual champion Chicago Blackhawks to seven games.
The downside is, the Wings had a 3-1 series lead and couldn't put the Blackhawks away.
"I think we played really well," Ericsson said. "We could have won over Chicago 4-2 or almost 4-1, but that's not how it worked.
"It's gonna be a matter of luck and bounces here and there. I think everyone's excited to start off where we left off last season."
Coach Mike Babcock wants his players to focus on the immediate task at hand.
"We got a big game on Wednesday (vs. Buffalo at Joe Louis Arena)," he said. "Most important game is the one you're playing. We talk about it every single year.
"We're gonna have 82 of those days this year. Let's get after it and see where we're at."
There's some belief that the Wings will have a hard time adjusting to the Eastern Conference because those teams play a more physical style.
Or do they?
"It’s tough to compare," said Daniel Alfredsson, who spent his entire career with the Ottawa Senators before coming to Detroit. "A lot of people think the East is more physical, and I thought the West was more physical. So I don’t know what’s true. It’s pretty even then, I guess.
"This team will do well in the East. It’s way better travel schedule, puck possession, a different style and a lot of teams haven’t seen them as much.
"Hopefully, especially early on when people haven’t scouted us as much, we can take advantage of that."
Babcock pointed out that the Wings have to learn 14 teams while the Eastern Conference teams need to learn only a couple, the Wings and the Columbus Blue Jackets.
The Wings played Eastern Conference teams 18 times two seasons ago and went 10-7-1 in those games.
"I think we're gonna be fine," Babcock said. "That assessment on video, that's all fun. But the reality is, when you start playing them head to head is when you learn about them."
Alfredsson and fellow new addition Stephen Weiss -- who played for the Florida Panthers before joining the Wings -- can help give their new teammates scouting reports. Those two are also expected to be big factors in the Wings' success with their play.
Weiss is set to center a line with Alfredsson and Johan Franzen.
"I think it should be a real good unit for us," Babcock said, "and I think it should generate offense as well as be outstanding defensively."
Ericsson said Alfredsson and Weiss have been just what they expected.
"We knew they were great players," Ericsson said. "Alfredsson's going to be huge for us on the power play. He's been showing that in the preseason games, how well he plays in those situations.
"Weiss also brings great depth to us. He's a leader on the ice when he's out there. He's always working hard, and he's got some really good skills, too.
"They're great additions. That's exactly what we need."
Because of the salary cap, the Wings are no longer perennial Cup favorites, but they are expected to reach the playoffs for the 23rd straight season.
"We want to compete for the division, we want to make the playoffs," Wings general manager Ken Holland said. "It's a parity league, and I don't know that there's many teams dramatically better than any other teams. There's so many teams that are so close.
"You know, with 10 games to go in the season, it's going to be a race for the division, a race to make the playoffs, a race for home ice. We want to be in the thick of those races."