DETROIT - The Detroit Red Wings are counting on some youngsters to play key roles this season.
So far, so good. Jiri Hudler, a 23-year-old forward, scored the only shootout goal to lift the Detroit Red Wings to a 3-2 victory over the Anaheim Ducks on Wednesday night in a rematch of the Western Conference finals.
"He's a confident player, and he's gifted," Detroit coach Mike Babcock said.
Even though Detroit is hoping some younger players take advantage of more opportunities, it is also relying on 42-year-old goaltender Dominik Hasek.
Hasek faced just 15 shots in regulation, but was sharp enough to turn away each of Anaheim's three attempts in the shootout to seal the win in Detroit's opener.
"I think it was a very exciting game for the crowd and for everybody who was in the building, including the players," Hasek said.
But Detroit's opener drew just 17,610 fans - far from a sellout.
Several upper-deck sections had empty rows and patches of seats in the lower bowl did not have fans in them, continuing a trend in a place that boasts it is Hockeytown.
"I think it's the local economy right now," Norris Trophy-winning defenceman Nicklas Lidstrom said. "I think it's hurting us as well as everyone else."
The defending Stanley Cup champions seemed to be hurting physically and perhaps mentally from a travel-heavy start to their season.
Anaheim opened the season in England, where it split two games with Los Angeles, and will play at Columbus and Pittsburgh later this week before facing Boston on Oct. 10 in their home opener.
"We seemed to be very taxed in a lot of ways from the standpoint of moving our feet," Ducks coach Randy Carlyle said.
Todd Bertuzzi scored and set up a go-ahead goal late in the second period for Anaheim against his former team, but the Red Wings tied it 2-2 early in the third.
Tomas Holmstrom's goal came off a cross-crease assist from Henrik Zetterberg, who had scored midway through the first period.
Detroit had an extra skater midway through the third period, was on the power play for the final 30 seconds of regulation and early in overtime, but couldn't get a shot past Ilya Bryzgalov.
"We've got to be happy we got a point, but at the same time, I don't think we played nearly as good as we have to," Bertuzzi said.
Bryzgalov made 40 saves, playing for injured goaltender Jean-Sebastien Giguere.
"We only played 10 to 15 minutes of the kind of hockey we need to play to win, but our goalie gave us a chance," Carlyle said.
After Anaheim eliminated the Red Wings in six games and beat the Ottawa Senators in five for the franchise's first Stanley Cup, the Ducks signed two players away from Detroit in July with two-year deals: Bertuzzi and sharp-shooting defenceman Mathieu Schneider.
Bertuzzi showed Detroit, which only wanted to give him a one-year contract, that he still can produce after being limited by a back injury last season. The six-foot-three, 231-pound forward scored from the slot and assisted on Ryan Getzlaf's goal.
"He's going to be a huge factor, being healthy and playing a physical game," teammate Corey Perry said.
The Ducks will have to wait a couple of weeks for Schneider to contribute because he's out with an ankle injury.
Giguere is day to day after having hernia surgery.
"He's starting to take shots now, but we really don't have a timetable," Carlyle said.
Both goaltenders started strong in the shootout, turning away the first two shots they faced.
Hudler, who is being asked to play a larger role, took advantage of being picked to participate in the shootout by scoring on Detroit's third attempt.
"It's always a little bit of pressure," he said. "I'm glad it went in."
Hasek then sealed the victory by stopping Perry.
The Ducks were without some of their key players because of injuries, but are also missing defenceman Scott Niedermayer and forward Teemu Selanne because both are deciding whether they want to play or retire.
Notes: Like Giguere, C Samuel Pahlsson is out after having hernia surgery. ... On Detroit's goals, Zetterberg, Lidstrom, Pavel Datsyuk and free-agent acquisition Brian Rafalski had assists. ... Perry, Bertuzzi and Andy McDonald had assists for the Ducks.