DETROIT – After spending each of his previous NHL seasons with the Florida Panthers, Stephen Weiss will face his former team for the first time in his career tonight, as the Red Wings host the Panthers at Joe Louis Arena.
The veteran center is looking forward to seeing his old teammates and friends, but might be even more excited to put the reunion behind him.
“You know, playing against some good buddies of mine over there and against a team that I was with for so long, I’m sure there will be some mixed emotions,” Weiss said. “But just looking forward to getting the first one over with really to be honest with you, and the ones after that should be a little bit easier. But I’m not sure how I’ll feel.”
Weiss will return to south Florida in three days as the Red Wings play the first of two games in the Sunshine State with a Tuesday game against the Panthers.
Weiss played his junior career in suburban Detroit with the Plymouth Whalers before being taken fourth overall in the 2001 NHL draft by Florida. The center signed a five-year contract with Detroit last July, leaving Florida as the team’s all-time leader in games played (654) and assists (249) through parts of 11 seasons.
Even though he has spent most of his professional career wearing a Panthers uniform, Weiss hasn’t wasted much time thinking about the matchup against his former team.
“The games, they pile up so fast in Olympic years really haven’t had too much time to think about it,” Weiss said. “But it’s started to sink in the past few days that they’re coming into town so I’m looking forward to it.”
Since joining the Red Wings five months ago, Weiss has been nothing but ecstatic to be part of the Original Six organization, and doesn’t even want his old team to bring the Florida weather to his new city.
“Being in the hockey market again, the change of weather has been an adjustment,” he said. “It’s been nice to get into some cold weather again and just being in this type of environment, this type of culture with the Red Wings and winning hockey games has been a lot of fun so far, really enjoyed it and looking forward to this little stretch leading up to Christmas and then refocusing, getting back at it after Christmas.”
Through 24 games this season, Weiss has recorded two goals and two assists, both assists coming in the last nine games he has appeared in. The Toronto native was sidelined for six games last month with a groin injury, and has tried to maintain a positive attitude through his offensive woes.
“Sure it’s frustrating,” Weiss said. “You always want to personally do well and help the team. For me, coming here was about winning games and being on a team that has a chance to win every night and compete in the playoffs and for a Stanley Cup. When you’re winning games it’s tough to complain. But then there’s that side of you that every player has – you want to do well personally and help out and be a part of it. We’ll try to get that part going as well.’’
Although Weiss has struggled with injuries and offensive production in his first season with the Red Wings, coach Mike Babcock thinks it’s just a matter of time before the forward breaks through his mental barrier.
“I think when you go to a new place, just not being comfortable makes it hard on you,” Babcock said. “In the reality though the hockey is hockey. He’s been a real good player throughout his whole career. I don’t imagine that it’s going to take him that much longer, but when you come to a new place and you get paid a lot of money and they put big expectations on you and you put expectations on yourself. We’d like him to breathe. He knows all that and he knew before he arrived. You always want it to go good for you in a new place and when it doesn’t you have to choose your attitude and battle through it.”
The matchup against his former team is sure to be a battle for Weiss, who isn’t ruling anything out once he steps on the ice.
“Anything goes once the game starts,” Weiss said. “I wouldn’t throw anything off the table but who knows. Once the game starts it’s business and you have to compete and do your job, but I’m sure there will be some words exchanged.”
With his former team in his new house, Weiss hopes all of their words will be met with a W.
“Some guys have been there as long as I was, guys that were at my wedding,” he said. “It will be nice to see them and catch up, and hopefully it’ll be after two big points.”
MONSTER IN GOAL: Jonas Gustavsson will make his second straight start in goal tonight against Florida. The backup goaltender has won his past five starts and is 8-0-1 this season, stopping 10 shots in Detroit’s 3-1 victory over New Jersey last night.
Gustavsson has started in place of Jimmy Howard in five of the Red Wings’ last seven games, who has gone 6-8-6 in 20 games this season.
“You always find out way more about yourself during tough times, but that’s the same with everybody in any walk of life,” Babcock said of Howard. “When things are going great we’re all great people. It’s when it’s not going good it’s how we choose our attitude, how we choose our worth ethic, that makes you a good pro. Every good goalie in the National Hockey League has been through some ups and downs.
“Gus couldn’t even get in the net last year, that’s why you’re mentally tough and stick to it. We understand how important Howie is for us. There’s not one guy in the room that doesn’t understand that, now he’s just got to get the net back.”
STREAKING TO THE TOP: Five Red Wings are currently on point streaks, including Johan Franzen, who has recorded three goals and five assists in the past six games. With his first goal in 15 games last night, Joakim Andersson is now on a two-game point streak, joining Gustav Nyquist who has notched two assists in the past two games.
THE MAGICIAN RETURNS: Babcock confirmed that center Pavel Datsyuk will return to the lineup on Tuesday 10 when the Florida Panthers host the Wings. Datsyuk has been sidelined with a concussion since Nov. 23, when he was elbowed in the jaw by Ottawa’s Jared Cowen. The center will miss a total of seven games with the injury.
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