Daniel Alfredsson, who came to the Red Wings to win a Stanley Cup, says his biggest asset 'is being in the right place at the right time.' (David Guralnick / Detroit News)
Jakub Kindl’s good idea was to rush the net with about 2 minutes, 30 seconds remaining in overtime against the Hurricanes last Friday.
The change of pace in the Red Wings attack and Kindl’s take-it-to-the net approach nearly worked. When no goal resulted, the Hurricanes were quickly on the rush with the Red Wings defenseman chasing.
But, Daniel Alfredsson was waiting with keen anticipation at the blue line, at about the spot from which Kindl had begun his drive.
Quickly, Alfredsson skated backward. He kept pace in reverse with the Hurricanes’ attacking left wing through the neutral zone.
At the Red Wings blue line, Alfredsson veered sharply to his right and toward the boards. There, he took the puck.
He then started forward, beginning another foray. Alfredsson also provided the climactic thrust moments later, stalking within feet of Hurricanes goaltender Cam Ward.
His shot would have won the game had it not struck the shaft of Ward’s stick.
On the next shift, Stephen Weiss scored, giving the Red Wings their second victory of the budding season.
Alfredsson is an essential ingredient, long sought by the franchise to complement the offense of Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg. Even at age 40, his skills remain considerable.
It is the importance of being “Alfie.”
Healthy for a substantial portion of an 82-game schedule and the playoffs, Alfredsson’s ability could well contribute to enough scoring from the second line and power play to render the offensive falterings of the Red Wings the past couple seasons a dead issue.
“He is a great all-around player,” Zetterberg said. “He plays both sides of the ice. Obviously, he is good on the power play; he’s got a good shot.
“And he’s going to be a big part of our team.”
Reminiscent of Federov
One shift does not make a game, let alone a season. But it was a shift like something unseen for some time in Detroit: a defenseman’s skill, a defensive forward’s attention to detail, an offensive forward’s instincts and an accomplished scorer’s aptitude in the slot.
Datsyuk and Zetterberg are top-of-the-charts two-way forwards.
But that skating in reverse item, added to finishing both the defensive and offensive parts of the play? Sergei Fedorov.
Check that continually updating highlight video that got installed in your brain when you were made a Red Wings fan before birth. Who else since the man some like to boo has done that in a Detroit uniform?
Will it happen for Alfredsson every shift all year? No, if only because 40 is 40.
But the skill is already on display. And, while some question his years in Ottawa because he never won a Stanley Cup and because, like Steve Yzerman, his leadership is quiet and mostly by example, his character is, nonetheless, formidable.
Of his defenseman’s tool box, Alfredsson chuckled and said, “It’s a simple explanation.”
“I did play defense until I was 14, 15. Not that I’m great at it, but I am comfortable skating backwards,” he said, referencing his development in the hockey clubs in Sweden.
“The coach decided to put me up at center, because I was never in my own end anyway!” he said, flashing a mischievous smile of self-deprecation.
Asked to assess his skills, as he begins play in Detroit, Alfredsson was similarly unassuming.
“You know, as I consider myself as a player, I’m not really great at anything,” he said. “But I’m not bad at anything. I can shoot. I can stick-handle. I can skate.
“But I’m not the fastest. I don’t have the best shot. I’m not the best stick-handler.
“But, all around, I think my biggest asset is reading the game, anticipating what’s going to happen and, you know, being in the right place at the right time.”
Meanwhile, there is nothing like a player with something to prove.
In an Olympic season, united on the Red Wings roster with several future teammates for the Swedish national team, it is the Stanley Cup that gives Alfredsson incomparable motivation.
Mike Modano arrived two seasons ago, slated for the third line, looking for a second Stanley Cup and talking about how much harder the Red Wings skated during practice than the Stars.
Alfredsson plays on the second line, seeks to realize every hockey player’s lifelong dream for the first time and, save for a sore groin during camp, is up and down the ice with considerable skill and vigorous intent from the get-go.
Recall Yzerman in October 1996. Always a contender, never a champion and well-skilled even as the seasons began to ebb.
It is precisely where Alfredsson stands, except he is later to his first Cup, in his 18th year in the NHL.
“You know, I’ve been on a few teams fortunately that have been in the playoffs a lot of times,” he said of his years in Ottawa. “And I’ve been in the league a long time now, and still haven’t won.
“So, that’s what drives you. That’s what makes you come to the rink every day and push yourself and try to get better and improve.
“When you come up to this age, you’ve got to still have the drive. Otherwise, it’s a long year.”
Time will tell if Alfredsson picked the best team, for the end of his drive.
But his performance may well be noteworthy, regardless.