REDWINGS(16-16-4) at MAPLE LEAFS (16-12-7)
3:00 pm (SN/NBC)
An original six matchup, on New Years Day and the game is being played outdoors. That’s a pretty romantic picture of how hockey is supposed to be played.
For both combatants this afternoon, the venue may be fun, but the two points needed by both clubs is anything but rainbows and unicorns. These are two teams are heading in opposite directions and both in need a of win.
There is an evident cycle for NHL teams that have enjoyed success. It usually starts with some lean years, then an infusion of talent (if development and bounces favour a team), then hopefully raising the Stanley Cup a few years later. Eventually, the wins and talent dry up and the cycle starts all over.
Some teams are better at flourishing in today’s NHL but Detroit has been able to rise above the cream and prosper both prior to and since the inception of the salary cap. The Wings have made the playoffs for 25 straight years and won the Stanley Cup 3 times during that period.
Now, today, it is a different story. It appears that the Wings have come full circle and may be now be tasked with rebuilding a proud franchise.
Detroit is currently six points out of a playoff spot, so it may be a bit too early to write off a post season berth.
This is not to say that Detroit doesn’t have its bright spots. Dylan Larkin is playing his sophomore season and is just slightly off his rookie year point production. He is expected to become a large part of the Red Wings future.
Another player to watch is Anthony Mantha. The 22 year old has scored 7 goals and added 6 assists in 21 games this season.
Injuries have decimated Detroit’s lineup with Jimmy Howard and his 1.96 GAA perhaps being the biggest loss so far this season. The injury list is long in the motor city.
It is a different story for the Toronto Maple Leafs. Detroit alumni Brendan Shanahan is president, Mike Babcock is the coach and the Leafs are not only nipping at a playoff spot but looking up to third place in the Atlantic Division.
Toronto is on a four game win streak thanks to the efforts of Auston Matthews and company. The Leafs rookie center may break Wendel Clark’s record of 34 goals in a Leaf’s rookie season. Matthews is on pace to score 42 even after going 13 games without a goal, earlier this season.
This Leafs team is grabbing a lot of attention recently. What is being said is no longer fodder to feed punch lines.
Fans and media alike are using words like dangerous, aggressive and a threat on any given night. After starting December with a 1-5 record the team has reversed course and is 5-1 over their last six games. Recent play has forced people to wonder if the rebuild is further ahead than what most expected and how much damage this Leafs team could do in the post season.
One story line that is emerging is how Mike Babcock seems to have turned his attention to Nylander and Marner.
Babcock’s most recent player project was Nazem Kadri. Those results have been positive as Kadri is having a career year. Leafs Nation can expect smarter hockey from both rookies as the rest of the season plays out and Babcock nurtures the abundance of skill both forwards can offer.
Despite both teams moving in different directions, expect a veteran Detroit team to use experience to overcome the speed and offensive skill of the Leafs . On the other hand, you could also expect the young and raw Leafs to impose their will using those same attributes resulting in a win and another step towards the post season.
What do you think Leafs Nation?
Discuss among yourselves.
Happy New Year
UPDATE: due to conditions, the NHL has delayed today’s puck drop by 30 minutes.
Projected Line Combinations
Toronto Maple Leafs
van Riemsdyk — Bozak — Marner
Hyman — Matthews — Brown
Komarov — Kadri — Nylander
Martin — Gauthier — Soshnikov
Rielly — Zaitsev
Gardiner — Carrick
Hunwick — Polak
Detroit Red Wings
Tatar — Zetterberg — Mantha
Nyquist — Nielsen — Vanek
Jurco — Larkin — Glendening
Miller — Athanasiou — Ott
DeKeyser — Oullett
Kronwall — Smith
Ericsson — Jensen
Mike Babcock – December 31, 2016 Practise