Wings figure to benefit from Eastern Conference move

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For years the Detroit Red Wings sat patiently, waiting for NHL realignment to move them into a more time-zone and travel friendly setup.

Now the wait is over.

Beginning next season, the Wings will play in the Eastern Conference’s Atlantic Division along with the Bruins, Sabres, Panthers, Canadiens, Senators, Lightning and Maple Leafs.

Needless to say, players were thrilled to learn they’d be leaving the Western Conference, dramatically cutting down on cross-country flights.

“We’ve traveled back and forth, across the United States quite a bit,” Jimmy Howard told the Macomb Daily back in May. “To move to the East I think that would be a lot of fun to play a lot of games in the Eastern Time Zone. It would be great for our fans too, not having to stay up until all hours of the night to watch us.

“I think the travel sometimes takes years off of all of our lives.”

Traditionally one of the NHL’s most-traveled teams, Detroit figures to cut down its mileage in 2013-14. Some diligent work from SB Nation’s On The Forecheck suggests the Wings will log 35,324 miles — a far cry from the 42,865 they played in the last full NHL season (2011-12).

The real boon, though, might come in the playoffs.

The 2013 postseason was a tough one for Detroit, especially in the opening round. Its series with Anaheim went the full seven games, meaning the Wings had to endure five cross-country trips totaling more than 10,000 miles. There was also the endless switching of time zones (three hour difference), all of which took its toll.

“The worst is going back from [Pacific Standard Time] to the Eastern,” defenseman Kyle Quincey told MLive.com. “It’s a four- or five-hour flight with a three-hour time change. You get on a plane at 9 in the morning, you get home, the next thing you know you get back to your place and where did the day go?”

All that said, Detroit won’t escape the West entirely this year. It’ll have two significant swings: One through Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton and Winnipeg from Oct. 30-Nov. 4, and another through Dallas, San Jose, L.A. and Anaheim from Jan. 4-12.

The move will also affect Detroit’s relationship with one of its biggest rivals — the Chicago Blackhawks. Whereas the two teams would meet routinely during the regular season, next year sees them face off just twice…something at least one Red Wing is OK with.

“I don’t think we’ll miss playing them six times a year,” said Niklas Kronwall.

Zetterberg on pace to play 1,000th game in Joe Louis Arena farewell

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Barring injury, Red Wings captain Henrik Zetterberg will get the opportunity to make his 1,000th NHL game even more special.

Detroit head coach Jeff Blashill confirmed today that Zetterberg will play tonight and tomorrow in Carolina, putting the 36-year-old on pace to play his 1,000th game on Apr. 9, the date of the final Wings game at Joe Louis Arena.

The Wings, who will miss the playoffs for the first time since 1990, have eight games left in their regular season. They host New Jersey on Apr. 9.

Tonight’s game was originally scheduled for Dec. 19, but had to be postponed due to poor ice conditions at PNC Arena.

Isles sign Northeastern captain Stevens

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John Stevens, who just wrapped a four-year career at Northeastern University, has signed a two-year, entry-level deal with the Islanders, the club announced on Monday.

Stevens, 22, went undrafted but emerged as a valuable player for the Huskies, culminating with a senior season in which he served as captain and averaged better than a point per game (28 in 25 contests).

Stevens is the son of longtime L.A. Kings associate coach John Stevens, who formerly served as the bench boss in Philly.

A third member 0f the Stevens clan, Nolan, also played this season at Northeastern — his junior campaign — and was taken by St. Louis in the fifth round of last year’s draft.

McElhinney to start for Leafs tomorrow

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Curtis McElhinney will start in goal for the Maple Leafs when they host Florida tomorrow.

Which means Toronto’s regular starter, Frederik Andersen, will not.

Andersen, hurt Saturday in Buffalo, only lasted 20 minutes of practice this morning. The Toronto Star, citing a Leafs source, is reporting that Andersen “took a blow to his jaw from a player in Saturday’s 5-2 loss to the Sabres.”

McElhinney is 4-5-0 with a .919 save percentage in 10 appearances for the Leafs this season. He told reporters that tomorrow will be the biggest start of his NHL career.

It remains to be seen who will back up McElhinney against the Panthers. The Leafs have recalled goalie Garret Sparks from the AHL on an emergency basis. All three netminders were on the ice today.

Update:

Expect Sparks to be the back-up tomorrow.

Toronto has a three-point playoff cushion, with eight games remaining.

The Leafs also recalled forward Kasperi Kapanen, the 22nd overall draft pick in 2014. Kapanen, 20, has 18 goals and 25 assists in 43 games for the Marlies this season. He’s expected to replace Ben Smith on the fourth line, alongside Brian Boyle and Matt Martin.

Habs sign d-man Mete, who ‘does everything’ for junior team

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Victor Mete, Montreal’s fourth-round pick at last year’s draft, has signed his three-year, entry-level deal, the club announced on Monday.

Mete, 18, is in his third year with OHL powerhouse London, and finished this season with 15 goals and 44 points in 50 games. He’s developed a reputation as a terrific skater, and often plays alongside fellow Knights d-man Olli Juolevi, who the Canucks took fifth overall at last year’s draft.

London assistant coach Dylan Hunter had high praise for Mete this season.

“When it comes to little nuances of his game, stick on puck, knowing when to make a play and when there isn’t a play to just get it out, he’s one of the best there is right now,” Hunter said, per the London Free Press.

“He does everything for us.”

Mete has one year of junior eligibility remaining, so it’s likely he’ll be back in London next season. At 5-foot-10 and just 180 pounds, he’s undersized and could use another year of development before turning pro.