By Stefan Kubus –
DETROIT – Dueling chants of “Let’s Go Red Wings” and “Go Leafs Go” produced a playoff-like atmosphere at Joe Louis Arena Friday night.
For two teams set to renew a divisional rivalry and square off outdoors at Michigan Stadium, it was a tremendous beginning to the affair, with Detroit coming out on top, 5-2. Daniel Alfredsson scored his first goal in a Red Wings sweater and added an assist, while Johan Franzen and Henrik Zetterberg also tallied a goal and a helper each.
“It feels good when you have the puck and you’re playing on the offensive side more,” Alfredsson said. “It gives you more energy and I thought we had fun out there.”
Joakim Andersson opened the scoring for Detroit, tipping home a Xavier Ouellet shot from the point with Dan Cleary screening Jonathan Bernier in front.
Nazem Kadri tied things up for Toronto not too long after. Kadri took a pass from the boards as he drove the middle of the Red Wings’ zone to go one-on-one with Howard, and sent a chip shot underneath his left pad to tie things up at one aside.
Former University of Michigan Wolverines captain and Grand Rapids native Luke Glendening put the Red Wings ahead, 2-1, with a rebound marker.
“He’s a good player,” head coach Mike Babcock said of Glendening. “He’s smart, he’s another guy like (Andersson); you trust him, you don’t worry about him. I had him out there every penalty kill right off the get-go. He’ll play for the Red Wings. He’s smart enough and competitive enough and knows how to play good enough. He’ll find a way to play in the NHL.”
Nine minutes later, Jake Gardiner took a puck from the point all the way down behind the net, and sent a pass to Nikolai Kulemin, whose low shot in the high slot hit Joffrey Lupul’s skate and found its way past Howard for a 2-2 tie.
James van Riemsdyk was whistled late in the second stanza for unsportsmanlike conduct. It appeared van Riemsdyk was flipping the puck to the official after an offsides call, but with a Red Wing directly in his path, the officials interpreted it as an attempt to hit the player.
Either way, the Red Wings capitalized on the call, as Franzen, Pavel Datsyuk and Zetterberg worked a tic-tac-toe passing play to perfection to put Detroit up 3-2 with 41 seconds to go in the period.
Alfredsson wound up for a big slap shot earlier in the game, but was robbed by Bernier. However, 5:57 into the third period, the former Ottawa Senators captain – he heard boos all night long from the Toronto faithful – found the back of the net on a booming one-timer from Zetterberg.
“I wasn’t sure exactly how I would feel,” Alfredsson said. “I haven’t played in a week and a half almost, but I felt good. I felt like I had the legs and it was fun to be out there.”
The Red Wings captain said having a new weapon like Alfredsson is a tremendously positive change that Detroit hasn’t had available in a while.
“He’s been playing so long, he knows where to be, he knows where to shoot and he’s a fun guy to play with,” Zetterberg said.
Later in the period, on a power play with David Clarkson off for slashing, Johan Franzen scored his first of the preseason, tipping home a Niklas Kronwall shot just 15 seconds into the man-advantage to lock up the 5-2 victory.
“It was a good test for us,” Alfredsson said. “We’re getting closer and closer now, so to play like this in the last home game is nice and encouraging and something to build on, but a few more days here to really get ready when the fun really starts.”
With Detroit moving to the new Atlantic Division, they will see Toronto four times during the 2013-14 campaign, including the 2014 Winter Classic on New Year’s Day at The Big House. The last year these two Original Six franchises met as division rivals was back in 1998 in the Central Division before Toronto moved to the Northeast the following season.
Friday night’s contest was the first of a preseason home-and-home with the Maple Leafs. Saturday evening’s contest is set for a 7 p.m. puck drop at the Air Canada Centre where both teams will wrap up their exhibition season.