DETROIT — When Mika Zibanejad made his NHL debut two years ago, he faced a group of former his Swedish hockey idols including Nicklas Lidstrom, Henrik Zetterberg and Niklas Kronwall.
When he returned to the NHL from his Binghamton exile at the Joe Louis Arena here Wednesday, there was yet another Swedish mentor on the other side: Former Senators captain Daniel Alfredsson.
“I guess everything started here, so I’m excited to be back,” Zibanejad said.
In between then and now, though, Zibanejad has picked up a litany of lessons. And there’s plenty more to discover, too. Listening to him for five minutes, you also get the sense he did a lot of thinking while riding the buses in the American Hockey League.
“I have lots to learn,” said Zibanejad, who started Wednesday’s game at centre, with Derek Grant and Erik Condra on his wings. “I’m happy about the different scenarios and situations I’ve been put into … for the future. I think I’m just gaining experience.”
Zibanejad, who scored two goals and five assists in six games after his surprising demotion to Binghamton following training camp, is aiming to impress with the style of game he shows, whether the points come immediately or not.
“The only thing I want to expect is that I’m skating, that I keep skating and keep working and shooting the puck like they want me to,” he said. “The biggest thing is to not want too … it’s just about establishing my game. That’s not about playing slowly or being careful in my game, but by playing simple and earning my minutes and getting back that way.”
LOUD MESSAGE FOR WIERCIOCH
Somewhat lost in all the Alfredsson buzz was the decision by Senators coach Paul MacLean to make defenceman Patrick Wiercioch a healthy scratch Wednesday. Wiercioch was expected to be a mainstay as part of the top four on defence, as well as lining up with Erik Karlsson on the blueline as part of the first power play unit.
But after a rough start to the season — Wiercioch has five assists in eight games and has lost power play time — MacLean opted for the rather extreme measure of sitting him out against Detroit.
“We just feel the speed of the game and getting the puck moving,” MacLean said, when asked where Wiercioch needed to improve. “The pace that he plays with needs to get better and using his feet and his size (6-5, 206 pounds) to defend better is a big part of it, as well.”
THE OTHER HOMECOMING
Erik Condra laughed when it was suggested his return to Detroit was the big story Wednesday. “That’s what the big story is today, I think, me coming home,” he said. It was, at least among those who grew up watching Condra play in Detroit, sometimes at the Joe Louis Arena.
Condra spent Tuesday night at his parents’ home 25 minutes from downtown Detroit and he figured there were “about 40 or 50″ family members and friends in the seats for the game. “This rink has so much atmosphere and character that it’s always fun to come back here and play.”