DETROIT — The first two goals at Detroit’s new arena came from young standouts the team is trying to build around.
When that wasn’t enough to shake the Minnesota Wild, grizzled veteran Henrik Zetterberg put the Red Wings back ahead to stay.
Zetterberg and Martin Frk scored in the third period to lift Detroit to a 4-2 victory over the Wild on Thursday night in the first regular-season game at Little Caesars Arena. Anthony Mantha and Dylan Larkin scored 23 seconds apart in the second period for the Red Wings, who then had to bounce back after blowing that 2-0 lead early in the third.
Zetterberg, who turns 37 on Monday, gave the Red Wings a 3-2 lead, collecting the puck in the slot and beating Devan Dubnyk between the legs with a wrist shot .
"Hank only played one exhibition game, but he didn’t look like he missed a beat at all. I thought he was excellent," Detroit coach Jeff Blashill said. "He’s been a world-class player a long time. He just plays winning hockey, and he’s a great example."
Joel Eriksson Ek and Chris Stewart scored 48 seconds apart for Minnesota to tie it early in the third, but then Zetterberg put Detroit back on top with 12:53 remaining.
"They obviously picked it up and we were satisfied with, ‘Oh, we tied it up,"’ Wild coach Bruce Boudreau said. "We didn’t keep our foot on the gas, that’s for sure."
The Red Wings said goodbye to Joe Louis Arena in April and moved to a new downtown venue they’re sharing with the Detroit Pistons. The Red Wings missed the playoffs last season for the first time since 1990, and although expectations are low at the moment, they opened with a victory.
"It was a lot of fun out there, from the introductions and all the way to the end," said Detroit goalie Jimmy Howard, who had 37 saves to earn his 200th career win. "This is an unbelievable facility."
Even before the opening faceoff, fans were already partaking in that old Detroit tradition of tossing octopi on the ice. The puck went across the Detroit goal line twice in the first, but goaltender interference was called both times and the period ended scoreless. Dubnyk made the save of the night when, while sprawled on his back, he swung his left arm across to deny Gustav Nyquist on a breakaway.
The Wild wasted a two-man advantage in the second period, and Detroit took full advantage of a similar opportunity. Mantha opened the scoring on a two-man advantage, and with the Red Wings still a man up after that, Larkin redirected the puck past Dubnyk to make it 2-0.
After Minnesota rallied to tie it, Zetterberg scored his crucial goal.
"Technically, I’d like to stay down on that a little bit more," Dubnyk said. "He’s in the slot. I made a read that he was going high glove, and I’ll have to watch whether it hits a stick and stays on the ice or just stays on the ice."
Frk made it 4-2 with his first NHL goal.
There were quite a few empty seats at the start of the second and third periods. Blashill offered a theory as to why.
"I thought the beginning of the second period, lots of people were checking out the concourse, so we’ve got to work on that, we’ve got to make sure they’re in there at the start. But overall I thought the atmosphere was great," Blashill said. "It was an event. We know it. I think you soak those types of things in."
NOTES: Commissioner Gary Bettman was in town for the opener at the new arena. "In terms of the fan experience, it is as good as you get in a public facility," he said.
Wild: Visit Carolina on Saturday night.
Red Wings: Visit Ottawa on Saturday night.