Red Wings-Maple Leafs Preview

If the Detroit Red Wings and Toronto Maple Leafs continue their

current levels of play, HBO will find itself covering a lot of

frustration leading up to the Winter Classic.

The participants in the NHL’s outdoor New Year’s Day showcase

have been struggling, though both will be looking to build on

victories Saturday night in their only matchup before meeting at

Michigan Stadium on Jan. 1.

Detroit’s roller-coaster season has hit another dip over the

past two weeks, as the Red Wings (16-12-9) have gone 1-4-2 in their

last seven. Offensive struggles have been the biggest culprit, with

Detroit totaling 12 goals in that span.

The injury-ravaged Wings topped the two-goal mark for the first

time in this stretch Thursday, with Daniel Alfredsson scoring his

second goal of the game in overtime on a power play for a 3-2

victory over Calgary. Detroit ended a nine-game OT losing streak as

well as its six-game overall skid.

“We have to stick to the program. We know if we have a good

effort every night, work for a full game we’re going to have a good

chance of winning games,” defenseman Niklas Kronwall told the

team’s official website after recording two assists. “If we do what

we’re supposed to do out there it doesn’t matter who’s in the

lineup we should be able to find a way to win. Tonight that was the

case.”

The HBO cameras following the teams through the outdoor game

have been featuring a Detroit club missing eight regulars, none

bigger than leading scorer Henrik Zetterberg, who hasn’t played

since Dec. 1 due to a herniated disc. Second-leading scorer Pavel

Datsyuk, however, helped offset that absence Thursday with an

outstanding two-way game, recording three assists and a game-high

seven shots on goal while finishing plus-1.

“They had a little desperation and hunger in their game down the

stretch,” the Flames’ Mike Cammalleri said.

The Wings will now be trying to get on another hot streak in

this up-and-down season. They won five of six Nov. 24-Dec. 1 before

the current slump and went 1-3-5 prior to that surge.

Toronto’s slump has been a bit more prolonged than Detroit’s.

The Leafs (18-16-3) have dropped five of seven and are 4-8-2 in

their last 14.

Like the Wings, they earned a much-needed victory Thursday by

defeating Phoenix 2-1 in a shootout behind James Reimer, who made

34 saves.

“It hasn’t been a good feeling around here the past couple

days,” said winger Joffrey Lupul, who scored the winner in the

tiebreaker. “It’s funny how even with an ugly, grind-it-out win

like that, you come to the rink tomorrow feeling a lot better about

yourselves.”

Lupul and James van Riemsdyk scored in the shootout for Toronto,

which has managed one non-shootout goal in each of its past three

games.

The Leafs employed a harder forecheck and more aggressive

defensive zone play, though they were outshot 35-27 and 30-19 after

the first period.

“I thought we were pretty strong for pretty much the full 60

(minutes) and we did things the right way, so that was definitely

an improvement,” van Riemsdyk said.

Reimer started in place of No. 1 goalie Jonathan Bernier, who

was out with an undisclosed injury. His status for this game is

uncertain.

Toronto has taken four of the past five meetings with Detroit,

winning 4-3 at home in the most recent one Jan. 7, 2012. The Leafs

have won four straight in the series at Air Canada Centre,

outscoring the Wings 17-8.