Abdelkader’s hat trick paces Wings over Leafs in opener
DETROIT (AP) — Mike Babcock bowed his head and rubbed his brow after seeing a fourth puck go in his team’s net.
There wasn’t much else the Toronto coach could do while watching his former team rout the franchise he’s trying to revive.
Justin Abdelkader had a hat trick and Dylan Larkin scored in his NHL debut, helping the Detroit Red Wings beat the Babcock-led Maple Leafs 4-0 on Friday night.
"A little extra special for us to get a win against Babs," Abdelkader acknowledged.
Jimmy Howard stopped 22 shots for his 21st career shutout for the Red Wings, who won their season-opening game and dropped Toronto to 0-2.
"I don’t think I was surprised at how good Detroit played or anything like that," Babcock said quietly after the game. "I just think we have to be better."
The Maple Leafs lured Babcock away from Detroit with an eight-year, $50 million contract that more than doubled what any other coach is making is making per season in the league.
Abdelkader scored on Detroit’s first shot, making the most of a power play 1:15 into the game. He had another goal midway through the first period off a centering pass from Larkin.
Just 20 seconds into the second period, Larkin lifted a shot from the bottom of the left circle over goalie Jonathan Bernier and pumped his right fist while celebrating the moment in front of 20,000-plus fans at Joe Louis Arena.
"It’s an incredible feeling just to see it go in and see the Joe go pretty crazy," said Larkin, who is from suburban Detroit and played one season at Michigan.
Abdelkader became the first Red Wings player to score three times in an opener since Brendan Shanahan did it in 2001, according to STATS, and joined Adam Brown (1945) as the only players who had a hat trick in a season- and home-opening game.
Larkin, a 2014 first-round pick, drew two defenders as he skated down the middle of the ice and Abdelkader took advantage of the space to score his third goal 3:54 into the second period.
NHL rookies Edmonton’s Connor McDavid and Buffalo’s Jack Eichel have generated a lot of buzz, but Babcock said more people should be talking about the 19-year-old Larkin.
"He obviously gives them speed and he competes on every shift," Babcock said.
Bernier was pulled after allowing Larkin’s goal. He gave up three goals on nine shots. James Reimer stopped 12 of the 13 shots he faced in relief.
During a break in the game when Detroit was up 2-0, Babcock and his accomplishments with the Red Wings — a Stanley Cup and 525 wins — were shown on the videoboards and the crowd gave him a standing ovation. Babcock acknowledged the cheers by raising his hands a few times.
"It was nice of them to do," Babcock said. "I wish they wouldn’t have to do that. I don’t coach their team anymore. I’m glad this is all over with."
The Maple Leafs are paying Babcock an unprecedented amount of money to turn around their once-proud franchise. Toronto, which hasn’t hoisted the Stanley Cup since 1967, was among the NHL’s worst teams last season and has made the playoffs only once since 2004.
"I think we’re all sick of losing," center Shawn Matthias said.
The Red Wings are the only team that has earned a spot in the playoffs every year since the league emerged from a lockout in 2005 — a run that coincided with Babcock’s decade in Detroit — and are aiming to be in a 25th straight postseason.
With a mix of veterans and young skaters, such as Larkin, along with a pair of goalies, Detroit seems set up to be relatively successful again this season under first-year coach and Michigan native Jeff Blashill, who was promoted from the American Hockey League’s Grand Rapids Griffins.
"It’s pretty neat to have an opportunity to be the head coach of the team you grew up cheering for so I took a moment to certainly enjoy that," he said.
NOTES: Toronto opened the season Wednesday night with a 3-1 loss at home to Montreal. … Red Wings general manager Ken Holland said as of Friday night, 36-year-old forward Dan Cleary has refused to report to Grand Rapids after being assigned to the minors.