"I really enjoyed it," Yzerman said after Thursday night's 5-2 victory over the Los Angeles Kings. "I played a couple of preseason games, but the atmosphere tonight was totally different. The pace is much quicker and more intense, but it was easier to get into it."
Yzerman, the career points leader among active players and sixth all-time, finally began his 22nd NHL campaign after sitting out the first four games because of a groin injury sustained midway through the exhibition season.
Except for a handful of preseason games, Yzerman hadn't played in one that mattered since May 1, 2004, when a deflected shot by teammate Mathieu Schneider struck him near the left eye in Game 5 of the Western Conference semifinals. The 40-year-old center said stamina wasn't as much of a problem as he anticipated.
"I didn't have quite as much jump as the game went on, but in general I felt pretty good," Yzerman said. "And when I show that I'm able to handle more and I'm effective, I'll play more. We really have some pretty good depth, so there isn't really a need to have somebody play a ton. And my situation allows me to play more if need be."
Kirk Maltby and Jiri Fischer scored short-handed goals in the third period for the Red Wings, who ended the Kings' three-game winning streak and killed off all seven Los Angeles power plays - five in the final 15 minutes.
"I don't think there is anybody in this locker room who didn't leave it all on the ice," Kings center Jeremy Roenick said. "Our effort was tremendous. They got the bounces in the end, but it wasn't for lack of effort."
Roenick tied the score 2-all with 5:45 to play, shrugging off a check by newly acquired Detroit defenseman Jason Woolley in front of the crease and stuffing his third goal of the season past Manny Legace. Dustin Brown set up the play by carrying the puck around All-Star defenseman Chris Chelios and slipping the puck in front.
But Detroit regained the lead just 53 seconds later when Johan Franzen chased down a loose puck in the middle of the left circle and sent a wrist shot past rookie goalie Mathieu Garon for his first NHL goal.
Henrik Zetterberg and Fischer closed it out with empty-net goals in the final 48 seconds, Fischer's coming while the Kings had the man advantage.
The Red Wings took a 2-1 lead with 14:01 left in regulation. Kings defenseman Joe Corvo tried to pass the puck out of his own zone and it was intercepted in the high slot by Maltby, who swooped in alone on Garon and beat him to the stick side for his 20th career short-handed goal. It was Maltby's first point this season.
"I was just kind of reading the play to see what was going on," Maltby said. "I wasn't sure if he was going to actually try to make the pass, and when he did, I was fortunate that he didn't get a lot on it. It almost was like he was passing it to me, so I was able to step in and go in alone. I had almost too much time to think about what I was going to do."
Brendan Shanahan opened the scoring at 17:45 of the first period, just 41 seconds after the Red Wings killed off the Kings' first power play. Jason Williams carried the puck into the Los Angeles zone on a 3-on-2 rush and backhanded it into the low slot. It deflected off the stick of backchecking defenseman Mattias Norstrom and right to Shanahan, who beat Garon to the stick side.
"Mike has been stressing driving to the net," Shanahan said. "Usually, he wants at least one guy driving to the net - and on that play we had all three. It was kind of a lucky play, where the Kings' defenseman got a piece of the puck, but not all of it, and I happened to be in the right spot."
Sean Avery, who made his NHL debut with Detroit in December 2001 and was traded to the Kings for Schneider, tied it at 3:04 of the second. He snuck behind Chelios and got a perfect lead pass in the slot from Derek Armstrong before beating Legace through the pads with a short wrist shot.
- Los Angeles will play only two of the NHL's original six teams this season -- Detroit and Chicago -- due to the revamped scheduling format that will feature more games between division rivals. This is the first time the Kings will go an entire season without playing Toronto. The only other season in which they didn't play Montreal, Boston or the New York Rangers was 1994-95, when the schedule was shortened to 48 games by a players strike.
- Shanahan's 561 career goals are fourth all-time among left wings. Luc Robitaille of the Kings tops that list with 654.