Detroit — The Red Wings couldn’t have asked for a better opening to the regular season or to Little Caesars Arena as two generations sparked the team to victory.
Anthony Mantha, Dylan Larkin and Martin Frk — representing a big part of the future and present — and captain Henrik Zetterberg — the past and present star — all scored goals as the Red Wings defeated the Wild, 4-2.
Throw in goaltender Jimmy Howard, who stopped 37 shots in winning his career 200th victory, and Mike Green’s four assists, and the Red Wings made things exciting for the 19,515 celebrating in LCA.
“It felt special,” said Mantha, who added two assists. “It was perfect. I hope the fans enjoyed it.”
Special teams were definitely in the Red Wings’ favor. Mantha and Larkin’s goal were power-play goals 23 seconds apart in the second period.
The Red Wings killed all four Minnesota power plays, including a 1-minute, 38-second two-man Wild advantage early in the second period with the game scoreless.
That Red Wings’ power play, of course, was basically nonexistent and unproductive last season.
“Between Jimmy and the power play, those are the two big differences in the game,” coach Jeff Blashill said. “Confidence is a huge thing. It’s one game, but it’s a couple goals (on the power play), and every step of confidence you get helps you as hockey team.”
Red Wings coach Jeff Blashill says team's power play was one of the big differences in Thursday's win over the Wild in the regular-season opener. Ted Kulfan, Detroit News
The sellout crowd at LCA roared throughout the evening, as the Red Wings christened the lavish new arena with plenty of highlights.
But there were some tense moments, too.
Minnesota’s Joel Eriksson Ek and Chris Stewart scored 48 seconds apart early in the third period, tying the game at 2.
Eriksson Ek one-timed a pass from Stewart behind the net at two minutes, cutting the Red Wings lead to 2-1. Stewart then did the honors himself 48 seconds later to pull the Wild even.
But Zetterberg, who only played one preseason game because of a sore neck, broke the tie with a quick snap shot in the slot at 7:07, giving the Red Wings a 3-2 lead.
“We showed just great confidence in staying with it and that had a lot to do with Hank,” Blashill said. “He didn’t look like he missed a beat at all. He was excellent, he just plays winning hockey, and he’s a great example for all our guys.”
Then Frk, set up by Mantha, unleashed his massive shot from the circle that beat goalie Devan Dubnyk at 10:39, giving the Red Wings a 4-2 advantage.
Jimmy Howard made 37 saves to earn his 200th career win in Thursday's 4-2 victory over the Wild in the regular-season opener. Ted Kulfan, Detroit News
It was fitting that Mantha, Larkin and Frk, potential pillars of the future, made a big difference.
“We’ve talked about it lots,” Blashill said. “They’re going to be important pieces of this team and with those important minutes come responsibility.
“They started off a little slow but as the game went along, they played good.”
Mantha scored on a 5-on-3 Red Wings advantage at 14:40 of the second period.
Dubnyk made a stop on Frk’s hard shot from the dot, but the rebound slid to Mantha at the post, who put in the first regular-season goal in LCA history.
Still on the power play, Larkin quickly made it a 2-0 game. Green snapped a shot from the top of the slot that Larkin got his stick on and redirected past Dubynk only 23 seconds later at 15:03.
“We moved the puck well, created opportunities when we had them,” Green said. “We were shooting the puck right off the bat and that helped.”
Two apparent Minnesota goals in the first period were disallowed after video review.