With veteran Daniel Alfredsson in the mix, the Detroit Red Wings are eager to begin play in the Eastern Conference.
The 40-year-old winger hopes to make what could be his only season in Detroit a memorable one starting Wednesday night when the Red Wings try to continue their home success against the rebuilding Buffalo Sabres.
Playing its last year in the Western Conference, Detroit won half of its 48 games during the lockout-shortened 2013 season and reached the playoffs for a 22nd straight time. After knocking off second-seeded Anaheim, the Red Wings took a 3-1 lead on Chicago in the conference semifinals before the Blackhawks won three straight en route to their second Stanley Cup title in four seasons.
Following that disappointing finish, the Red Wings re-signed leading scorer Pavel Datsyuk, gave a surprise $5.5 million, one-year deal to Alfredsson and brought in veteran center Stephen Weiss.
"They're going to have as good of a team as anyone arguably in the league," Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said.
Though the Red Wings have not made it past the second round since losing to Pittsburgh in the 2009 Stanley Cup finals, their long-desired move to the East will cut down on travel and could make a club known for solid stick-handling and overall speed an instant contender within a conference where the play is generally considered more wide-open than the West.
"This team will do well in the East," Alfredsson told the Red Wings' official website. "It's a way better travel schedule. Puck possession, a different style and a lot of teams haven't seen them as much."
How well they do could depend largely on Alfredsson.
A two-time 40-goal scorer during 17 seasons with Ottawa, Alfredsson stunned many by signing with Detroit rather than the Senators for what could be his final NHL season before retirement.
Though he had 10 goals in 2013 and more than 24 once in the league's last four full seasons, Alfredsson hopes a new environment and style of play will help revive his game and offer a legitimate shot at hoisting his first Stanley Cup.
"I've been in Ottawa my whole career and looking at my situation I wanted to try something new and exciting," said Alfredsson, expected to be on the second line with Weiss and Johan Franzen.
Weiss posted three straight 20-goal campaigns with Florida before injuries limited him to one in 17 games last season.
Despite the presence of Datsyuk, Franzen and Henrik Zetterberg, Detroit finished in the bottom half of the league with 2.5 goals per game in 2013.
Jimmy Howard, meanwhile, tied for seventh with 21 wins and ranked eighth with a 2.13 goals-against average while starting all but six games. That performance earned him a $31.8 million, six-year deal in April.
Howard has yielded four goals on 96 shots and posted one shutout while going 3-0-0 in four games versus Buffalo.
The Red Wings are 11-0-1 at home against the Sabres since a 3-2 regulation loss March 6, 1994.
Coming off a 21-21-6 season during which longtime coach Lindy Ruff was fired in February and replaced by Ron Rolston, Buffalo hopes some youth will help lead to its first playoff appearance in three seasons.
"I can't predict how the season's going to go," owner Terry Pegula said. "But I know that the guys in the locker room are pretty upbeat."
Pegula and Rolston hope the likes of 2012 first-round picks Mikhail Grigorenko and Zemgus Girgensons will help improve a club that averaged 2.5 goals and ranked 29th on the power play, converting 14.1 percent. Grigorenko posted a goal and four assists in 25 contests last season.
Picked eighth overall in this year's draft, defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen, who turns 19 at the end of the month, also is expected to be in the lineup Wednesday.
"You're probably not going to see the potential of our team unfold for a couple of months," Rolston said. "But everyone is excited about it. And everyone has expectations that we've got what we need here now."
Thomas Vanek recorded at least 25 goals in his previous seven seasons with the Sabres, then totaled 20 and 41 points in 38 games in 2013.
A free agent after this season, Ryan Miller hopes to improve after posting a 2.81 GAA - his highest in eight seasons as Buffalo's top goaltender.
The Michigan native is 1-3-1 with a 3.81 GAA at Joe Louis Arena.
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