DETROIT - The Detroit Red Wings have been a beacon of excellence for two decades now and while a shift to the Eastern Conference meant new rivals, it was a change that was welcomed and had been waited on for years.
“It's nice,” said captain Henrik Zetterberg. “It's fun to go to different places; you see different cities and teams. We haven't really taken advantage of the travel yet but we're looking forward to that, come playoffs.”
And the playoffs is where you always find the Wings in springtime, due to a variety of factors. Talent throughout the lineup and a smart staff led by coach Mike Babcock is the obvious answer, but it's how that talent has helped the sport evolve that will truly be Detroit's legacy in the NHL. The Wings were one of the first modern teams to effectively play puck-possession hockey and have spawned numerous acolytes, such as Stanley Cup winners Chicago and Pittsburgh in recent years. And while many teams like to claim they play the puck-possession style, few can do it like Detroit. But the Wings don't mind the followers.
“Everyone is trying to play like that more and it's good for hockey,” Zetterberg said. “It's more enjoyable for the fans to watch teams play hockey instead of just defend. When you have the puck you can do more fun stuff and it's a good thing for the league.”
Teammate and fellow Swede Mikael Samuelsson is on board with that sentiment. He's on his second tour of duty with the Winged Wheel and loves the style.
“That's the fun way to play and that's how I want to play,” Samuelsson said. “Other teams have figured it out – if you have the puck, you can score.”
As expected, Detroit is at the top of the standings in the Atlantic Division, tied with the anti-puck possession Toronto Maple Leafs (not that the Buds are opposed to having the puck; they've just succeeded despite being outshot on most nights). But even though the East has been weaker than the West, Samuelsson knows the Wings can't let their guard down.
“If you're not ready,” he said. “You're not going to get two points.”