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Yzerman ready to take on Red Wings for first time

by Adam Kimelman /
Steve Yzerman said he's going to treat Thursday's game just like any of the other 81 his Tampa Bay Lightning will play this season.

"Honestly I'm trying to look at it as I want to watch the game and analyze it, take all the emotion out of it, and just think how does our team match against some of the best players in the game," Yzerman said during a conference call Monday. "I'm trying not to spend a lot of time thinking about the obvious."

The obvious is who his Lightning will be facing Thursday -- the visiting Detroit Red Wings. It will be the first time in 27 years -- since Yzerman was the fourth pick of the 1983 Entry Draft by the Wings -- that he'll be sitting in the opposite corner from the team for which he played and worked for most of the past three decades.

After a Hall of Fame playing career that ended after the 2006 Stanley Cup Playoffs, Yzerman moved into a front-office position, where he served as a vice president and worked with GM Ken Holland. This past summer, he made the biggest move of his career, leaving Detroit to take over as the general manager of the Lightning.

Yzerman knew when the schedule came out that he would see the Wings at some point this season, and that time finally has come.

"I don't think we should make this any more than one game," Yzerman said. "For us, I look at it as we're trying to win every game we can and we're playing against one of the best teams in the League. It's a nice test to see how we hold up against (Pavel) Datsyuk and (Henrik) Zetterberg and penetrate the best defense in the League.

"I'm not going to place too much emphasis on this game, but I'm curious to see how we play against Henrik and Pav and Nick (Lidstrom) and all these great players."

Yzerman always will feel a part of the Red Wings' organization.

He said he still watches their games when he can, and likes to see how they're doing. He also said his relationship with Holland and the rest of the Wings' front office staffers he worked with for so long hasn't really changed, either.

"It's really not much different," he said of his conversations with Holland now. "We're fighting for the same players and fighting for two points. But I was at a college game recently and talked to (Wings assistant GM) Jimmy Nill. It's different when you're with the same organization, you can talk about specific players, but in general our conversations never change. I still seek out (Holland's) advice on some of the decisions I've made throughout the course of the season."

Yzerman said he puts into practice one of the biggest things he learned from Holland -- patience.

"He put a lot of thought into every decision he made," said Yzerman. "He never made a rash decision. He thought it out and when he was comfortable with what he wants to do he makes the decision at that time. That's what I want to do."

So far his decision-making has been pretty strong.

He hired Guy Boucher as coach, and watched as Boucher guided the Lightning to the top of the Southeast Division and second place in the Eastern Conference. He's made changes to the roster when he thought it was necessary, with the biggest move the New Year's Day acquisition of goaltender Dwayne Roloson from the Islanders.

Roloson has gone 9-5-0 with a 2.63 goals-against average, .913 save percentage and four shutouts since joining the Lightning, who have gone 12-6-0 since he joined them.

"He's settled things down in net for us, had a couple really good games," said Yzerman. "He played Philly at home after All-Star break, and after we took an early lead Philly took the game to us and he locked it down and got a shutout for us. Mike (Smith) and Dan (Ellis) were having good games but we were having trouble with consistency. (Roloson) has played a long time, he's been a starter for a long time, and is just kind of a calming influence back there."

Despite the team's success, he isn't ready to call the season a success just quite yet.

"We had hoped, based on last year's team they were close to being a playoff team," he said. "If we could improve the team slightly we had a playoff contender, or a team that could contend for a playoff spot and that's what I feel we are. We're contending for a playoff spot and until we clinch that … I'll judge this season successful at end of the year.

"Right now, I want to clinch a playoff spot. Our goal at the start of the year was to make the playoffs, that's our No. 1 priority." -- Steve Yzerman

"Right now, I want to clinch a playoff spot. Our goal at the start of the year was to make the playoffs, that's our No. 1 priority. Thinking about the conference, winning the division, that's premature. Goal No. 1 is to clinch a playoff spot. … I don't take that for granted. Once we get ourselves a playoff spot, we can talk about competing for our division with Washington."

While the public will be curious to see Yzerman's reactions when the Lightning play the Wings, Yzerman only is curious about how his team handles the evening.

"They talk about games as measuring sticks," he said. "However it goes, we assess our team, but one game isn't going to change things dramatically. Certainly we want to do well against one of the better teams in the League. They're one of the strongest teams with some of the best players in the League and it's a good opportunity to see how we fare against them."

Contact Adam Kimelman at or follow him on Twitter @NHLAdamK
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