Game Preview: Winter Classic Primer at the ACC

Game Preview: Winter Classic Primer at the ACC

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The Maple Leafs enter this game trailing the Red Wings for third place in the Division (remember – the funny new format means top 3 teams from each division make the playoffs) by just two points. The teams are both middle of the pack-ish in goals for and against. Both teams have been plodding along on the wrong side of .500 the last 10 games.

One area where the Red Wings have remained formidable is on the road, where they’re 10-3-3 this season.

9 of the Red Wings’ 41 points have come in losing efforts (most in the league). For the Leafs, the extra point has been a key to their sustenance, with only 11 of their 18 wins coming in regulation. What a reversal of trends the shootout (5/18 wins) has been from seasons prior in Leafland.

It’s fair to say the transition to the East for the most consistently successful team in the NHL of the last 20 years hasn’t come with the same weaker-Conference dominance some were expecting.

“Dzone poise & execution” was something Mike Babcock scribbled in his notes on 24/7. The Red Wings have less of it without the Lidstroms, Rafalskis and Stuarts of yesteryears. For a while there the Red Wings were allowing over 30 shots a game regularly (I think they were at 32/game over the first 15), which is uncharacteristic of the once-possession giants.

As a well coached team is wont to do, though, that number has improved as the season has gone along and the Wings have moved the average down to 29 per game. An inability to score enough has been an issue this month.

Injuries to Zetterberg and Datsyuk haven’t helped the Red Wing cause. Zetterberg’s current back injury, which has sidelined him since December 1, has kept him out the last 10 games, during which the Red Wings have scored just 19 goals. The Swede missed just four games in his three seasons prior. Overlapping this injury was seven missed games by Pavel Datsyuk, who returned December 10th and has 5 points in 6 games since returning.

Switching out Stephen Weiss, the Clarkson of the Red Wings so far this season, for Valtteri Filppula is looking like a blunder in the early going. Filppula was coming off a 17-point 48 game season after a 66-point career year in 2011-12. His contract demands were deemed exorbitant by Ken Holland, but Filppula makes $100,000 more than Weiss and currently has 20 more points.

The Red Wings are an aging outfit, and according to the first episode of 24/7 perhaps the League’s most boring. As much as that’s been a running joke this week, the no-nonsense approach and standard for organizational excellence shone through in that Episode, as well as Mike Babcock’s impressive intensity.

In terms of lineup notes, Jonathan Bernier, battling a minor injury or illness late this week, is apparently available to Carlyle. Other than a possible change there, the lineup will likely remain much the same as Thursday’s winning combination. For the Red Wings, Jonas Gustavsson will start against his former team. It’d be nice if he got lit up and repaid Leafs fans after his seasons of suckitude in T.O. But who are we kidding?

Enjoy the game as well as Episode two of 24/7 featuring the two teams, airing on HBO right after the end of the game.

Alec Brownscombe is the founder of MapleLeafsHotStove.com, where he has written daily about the Leafs since September of 2008. He was also the editor of the 2009-12 Maple Leafs Annuals. You can contact him at [email protected]