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In Andersson, the Red Wings trust

by Bill Roose / Detroit Red Wings

Joakim Andersson played a contributing role in the Red Wings' penalty kill in the 2-1 win over Buffalo in Wednesday's season-opener. (Photo by Getty Images)

DETROITJoakim Andersson has more on his plate in his second full NHL season.

The third-line center may lack natural goal-scoring instincts, however, he’ll play a bigger role this season has a penalty-killer.

“It’s interesting, when you’re smart and you do things right you earn trust, and when you earn trust you get to go out on the ice all of the time,” coach Mike Babcock said. “That’s what he’s done. He’s come here and he’s found a way to be a regular guy, an important guy on our team, and we trust him.”

By gaining the trust of his team and coaches, Andersson managed to play nearly 4 ½ minutes on the penalty kill in Wednesday’s 2-1 win over the Buffalo Sabres. He averaged a little more than a minute of short-handed ice time last season, but logged 4:21 in a season-opener where the Wings had to kill off seven penalties, including a few questionable calls.

“A lot times especially in the beginning of the year the refs are even harder, so you really have to think about what you are doing with your stick and with your hands so you don’t grab hold of anything, or hook anyone,” Andersson said. “You have to think a little extra for the first couple of games.”

Last season, the Wings were among the teams with the fewest penalty-minutes in the league, averaging 9.8 minutes per game. The Wings had to kill seven or more penalties three times last season.

“I think some of the penalties were a little stupid,” said captain Henrik Zetterberg, who received two minor penalties Wednesday. “In the same way at the beginning of the year the refs are really picky. They’re really taking all the lateral sticks, you know, the slashing, they take it all. We know it. We’ve got to prepare better and think about it even more.”

Still, the Wings managed to kill off 11:36 of PK time against the Sabres, including a combined 2:22 in two separate two-man advantages. Andersson was one of the top penalty-killers, blocking two shots with registering a takeaway. He also went 9-of-13 in the face-off circle, including 6-of-8 combined in the defensive and neutral zones.

“Guys did great on the PK and I think we had two 3-on-5s that we killed off,” Zetterberg said. “We won’t do it every night though, so we have to stay out of the box and if we do that we’ll be fine.”

Late last season and into the playoffs, Andersson received praise from the Wings’ coaches for anchoring a third line with Damien Brunner and Gustav Nyquist. In August, the Red Wings rewarded the 6-foot-2 Swede with a two-year contract worth $1.465 million.

Wednesday, Andersson was rewarded with more ice time.

“It gives me confidence that the coach believes in me and the guys believe in me,” Andersson said. “And I really enjoy doing it.''

ALFIE’S OFF DAY: Daniel Alfredsson was given the day off following his Red Wings’ debut Wednesday night.

“Just a maintenance day, three games in four nights, so I'll be ready to go tomorrow,” said Alfredsson, who skated 19 shifts in Detroit’s 2-1 season-opening win over Buffalo.

A groin injury limited Alfredsson to two preseason games last month. He said that he’s fine and will play in both weekend games at Carolina on Friday and at Boston on Saturday.

“It's the reality of being 40,” Alfredsson said, laughing. “Just being smart about it. I definitely would like to practice. I enjoy practice. But now with camp and starting the season with three in four you got to be careful.”

Rookie forward Tomas Tatar, who skated in Alfredsson’s place on the second line with Stephen Weiss and Johan Franzen at Thursday’s practice, said he’ll be ready to jump into the line should Alfie not be ready to play against the Hurricanes.

“I don't know what's going to happen. I'm waiting to see,” Tatar said. “We're trying to work after practice so I'm not out shape, we're skating a lot. I'm ready. So whenever a spot will be open I'll jump in there.”

THE DIFFERENCE A GOOD START MAKES: Mikael Samuelsson was never 100 percent healthy last season. From a training camp groin injury to a fractured index finger and strained pectoral muscle, the veteran forward was a hot mess.

“Last year was last year,” Samuelsson said. “I have a mindset that it's a new year. I have to start off fresh. Back to square one and I have to work for my spot.”

Samuelsson’s first-period goal was his first regular-season goal in a Red Wings’ sweater since March 29, 2009.

“It was nice to get that goal after last year,” said Samuelsson, whose next goal will be No. 150 in his NHL career. “It could go both ways, you could struggle in the start and then who knows. You look around the room and there are a lot of good forwards in here. You have to earn your ice time. If you keep scoring every game you’re going to earn your ice time. But it’s only one game.”

Follow Bill Roose on Twitter | @Bill_Roose

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