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Here comes the great Maple Leafs-Red Wings pre-Winter Classic-classic hype machine

Updated 2x at 5:08 PM, and I've been updating the practice post all day long--Petr Mrazek and Tom McCollum's Winter Classic/outdoor game masks lurk within: I tried to keep the Red Wings-Maple Leafs pre-Saturday-game hype to a minimum today, but I'm going to dip my toe into the pond of fluffernutter here with the CBC's Jim Hughson surprisingly ripping into the Red Wings for being "too old," "too slow," etc. etc. (via RedWingsFeed; the Wings appear to not have any players who are under 35 if we are to believe Hughson) because they haven't run ramp-shod over the Eastern Conference (Red Wings fans have learned that it's the Wings who the East was prepared for, because everyone knows how Detroit plays hockey, and instead, the East's passive-aggressive play has flummoxed a team beset by injuries)...

And the Canadian Press's Stephen Whyno duly notes that tomorrow's Hockey Night in Canada-televised game (Jonas Gustavsson will start for Detroit, Danny DeKeyser will return from his shoulder issue and Darren Helm may or may not return from his shoulder issue) will at least serve as a "getting to know you" game for a pair of teams that haven't played a regular-season game against each other in almost two years:

“It’ll be good, especially probably on the special teams, how they play their power play and PK and what we can do to take advantage of that,” Leafs defenceman Carl Gunnarsson said.

Gunnarsson is one of just nine Leafs players who were in uniform for that 2012 meeting and are expected to play Saturday night. One of those is now-Red Wings goaltender Jonas Gustavsson, who joins just seven Detroit players who are still around from that game.

Some of it is turnover but it’s also partially the result of injuries that have ravaged the Red Wings, who are missing a handful of regulars including Henrik Zetterberg (back), Johan Franzen (concussion), Justin Abdelkader (concussion) and Jimmy Howard (knee).

With some players nearing returns, like Detroit defenceman Danny DeKeyser, Toronto goaltender James Reimer cautioned that this really isn’t a straight preview of the Winter Classic.

“It’s a different team than what you might see in a week or two,” Reimer said.

That’s true for the Leafs as well, given that centre Tyler Bozak is eligible to come off long-term injured reserve Dec. 29 after missing almost a month with an oblique strain. Who plays Saturday versus who plays in the Winter Classic doesn’t mean as much as the result in the eyes of Leafs coach Randy Carlyle.

“I look at it as an important game on our schedule,” Carlyle said. “Focus on playing the Detroit Red Wings who are a real talented hockey club that have a lot of depth in their lineup and have a lot of tradition of winning. We’ve had our challenges as of late, and we’re trying to use (Thursday) night’s win as a starting point for us to go forward and build something with our group.”

He continues with more Leaf perspective.

Quickie update: NHL.com made sure to post an article about the game on its Winter Classic website--and it's dated:

Detroit entered a game Thursday night against the Calgary Flames at Joe Louis Arena with losses in six straight. The Red Wings have had losing streaks of seven and six games this season, and both have occurred in the past six weeks.

Injuries have wreaked havoc on the club, with as many as eight regulars missing games. The team's top two players, Pavel Datsyuk and captain Henrik Zetterberg, have both missed time, and both Zetterberg and starting goaltender Jimmy Howard remain out of the lineup. In total, six of the team's nine best forwards are injured, plus Howard and top-four defenseman Danny DeKeyser.

"To be honest with you, you don't feel very good when you're losing, and I think everyone feels the same way," top defenseman Niklas Kronwall said after the team held an outdoor practice Wednesday at Comerica Park, the Detroit Tigers' stadium. "We have to stop this right now. Enough's enough. It's almost like we've been doing enough talking. We know what to do out there. It's a matter of going out there and actually doing it, not just saying we should do it."

The Red Wings are probably happy to be hitting the road. Detroit has struggled mightily at home this season. The Wings have won five times at Joe Louis Arena, tied for the fewest home wins in the NHL with three of the four last-place teams (the Buffalo Sabres, New York Islanders and Edmonton Oilers).

Detroit actually started the year 3-1-0 at home, so the Red Wings are 2-8-6 at the old barn along the Detroit River since Oct. 15.

Toronto has had its own share of struggles of late after a strong start. The Maple Leafs began the season 10-4-0, and after a 4-2 win Oct. 30 against the Calgary Flames they woke up on Halloween in first place in the Eastern Conference. It has been a steady decline since, with losses in 15 of 22 (7-12-3). That includes the most recent slump of five defeats in six games before welcoming the Phoenix Coyotes to the ACC on Thursday night.

The slide has left the Maple Leafs fifth in the Atlantic Division and holding down the second wild-card position, just three points clear of four teams from being outside a Stanley Cup Playoff spot.

"It's not from lack of effort from the coaching staff. Randy didn't get stupid overnight, he's a heck of a coach,” GM Dave Nonis said Thursday on TSN 1050 radio in Toronto. "It's not that we haven't seen high-level play from them, it's that it hasn't happened on a 60-minute basis very often and it hasn't happened on a nightly basis, and that has to change if we want to turn this around."

Update: More hype from the Toronto Sun's Lance Hornby...

Both clubs have also had HBO’s 24/7 cameras swirling around them the past couple of weeks, but both took some pressure off in shootout wins on Thursday, Toronto’s a 2-1 decision over Phoenix.

Coach Randy Carlyle said if the Leafs keep doing little things right defensively, then the major problems they encountered - losing 10 of 13 before Thursday - could be more managable.

Carlyle wanted more compete in areas such as “50-50” puck battles and received that on Thursday from players such as winger David Clarkson.

“That’s part of building that box within,” Carlyle said Friday at the ACC. “The motivation is built within. The great players in the league find ways to continually rise to the occasion.”

While the Leafs are without three centres, Dave Bolland, Tyler Bozak and Trevor Smith, the Wings long list of hurting players includes goalie Jimmy Howard (knee), defenceman Danny DeKeyser (shoulder), forwards Gustav Nyquist (groin), Henrik Zetterberg (back), Justin Abdelkader (concussion), Johan Franzen (concussion), Darren Helm (shoulder) and Stephen Weiss (groin).

...

Carlyle’s option to put Jonathan Bernier back in the rotation has been complicated by a hip-thigh injury. Unable to start Thursday after a collision in Monday’s game with Pittsburgh’s Jayson Megna, Bernier felt better on Friday, but is not commenting on his availability until Saturday afternoon. Reimer’s strong effort in the shootout win over Phoenix bodes well should he play.

The Leafs don’t appear to be changing the rest of their lineup from the Phoenix game. Bernier tried out some vintage brown pads he hopes to use at the Classic, while Reimer has been working in a old-style paint job mask. But the Leafs are trying to treat Saturday’s game as a separate entity from the game at the Big House.

“We just want to make a stand tomorrow night,” said defenceman Carl Gunnarsson. “It will be good (getting a preview of Detroit’s) special teams.”

And MLive's Ansar Khan noted that Jonas Gustavsson's looking forward to playing in Toronto:

Gustavsson is sporting the best statistics of his career (9-3-2, 2.25 goals-against average, .920 save percentage), but no chip on his shoulder from his days as a Maple Leaf.

“You always want to be successful for an organization for a long time,” Gustavsson said. “I enjoyed living in Toronto, had a lot of good teammates. But I think both (sides) felt it was time to move on. For me it was time to find another challenge. For them it was probably good to move on, too.”

His time in Toronto was bittersweet.

“It was my first few years over here, so it was a lot of learning,” said Gustavsson, who signed a two-year, $3 million deal with Detroit on July 1, 2012. “We didn’t make the playoffs; that was a disappointment. For myself, right away I got a chance to play a lot of games, get some experience. That was really good for me. I had some good stretches and not so good stretches. It was a learning period for me.”

The first of four meetings between these teams will be on Hockey Night in Canada, and HBO’s 24/7 crew continues to document both teams’ activities on and off the ice leading up the Jan. 1 Winter Classic at Michigan Stadium.

So there will be a lot of attention on this game.

“It’s going to be exciting; it’s fun,” Gustavsson said.

Update #1.5: If you want to read NHL.com's Joe Yerdon's discussion with the Leafs about the 24/7 cameras...

"I think it's honestly worse for the coaches," Maple Leafs goalie James Reimer said. "For us we just kind of do what we normally do. I don't think it does disrupt too much, but I think when you're talking and giving the team whatever, if it's a pump-up message or just talking about the game and having the camera right in your kitchen, I think it's honestly more awkward and harder for them than it is for us. I know that if I had to talk to a team with a camera in my face that would be more distracting. Honestly I think they get the worst of it."

The first episode of "24/7" premiered Dec. 14 and featured action from both teams on and off the ice, parts of it more flattering for some than others. Some players had to check it out to see how they were portrayed.

"I actually caught a glimpse of it two nights ago," Gunnarsson said. "I didn't see the whole thing. I saw parts of it. They're doing a good job show-wise. They know how to make it look good."

"I thought it was good," Reimer said. "I thought it was really good. I think they've always done a really good job. I think it's great for fans and even me, I remember watching some of the other ones they did with other teams. And it's just really cool to get that perspective from in the room and around the game. I think it's great what they do."

Having professionals film their everyday goings on isn't always appealing for those involved.

"It's just not normal for us. We've never had to do that," Carlyle said. "There is some adjustments and these people, as I said, they're not trying to be in your face and they respect your privacy when you ask for it at times. But again, it's just not normal. It's not a normal, every-day thing that we're accustomed to and it does take some getting used to."

Update #2: If you missed the rest of the Wings' story, here's DetroitRedWings.com's Andrea Nelson's practice report...

DeKEYSER RETURNS: After missing the past 14 games with a separated shoulder Danny DeKeyser will be back in the lineup Saturday when Detroit travels to Toronto. Although he’s eager to return, the defenseman knows it will take time to return to the high level he was playing at before the setback.

“It’ll be a little difficult at first,” DeKeyser said. “I’ve just got to get up to game speed. It’s been awhile since I’ve played so I’m going to do my best to play as well as I was playing when I got hurt so that’s what I’m going to try to do. Sitting around all the time makes it seem longer than a month that I’ve been out.”

HOMECOMING: Toronto native Brendan Smith will play in his first regular-season NHL game in his hometown Saturday. The defenseman grew up 10-minutes from Air Canada Centre, and is looking forward to seeing friends and family at the game during the holidays.

“It’ll be real exciting getting to go home and play, especially around Christmastime,” he said, “because there will be a lot of family and friends watching.”

INJURY UPDATE: Gustav Nyquist skated for the first time since sustaining a groin injury last Sunday against Tampa Bay. Although he feels healthy, the forward is still day-to-day and doesn’t expect to play Saturday.

“Whenever it feels 100 percent,” Nyquist said, “that’s my best answer to you of when I’ll be back. We’ve got to see within the next few hours after a good skate, if it flares up or if I feel anything we’ll take care of it and make a decision from there.”

Center Darren Helm was back on the ice after missing Thursday’s practice with the flu, and hopes to return from his shoulder injury Monday when the Red Wings host the New York Islanders.

“I think it’s kind of day-to-day still,” he said, “and just see how it feels in the next couple, hopefully in quick. Hopefully I wake up tomorrow and it feels great too.”

And both Mike Babcock and Daniel Cleary sang Jonas Gustavsson's praises while speaking with the Macomb Daily's Chuck Pleiness:

“He’s been really good for us, he’s had very few off nights or average nights to say the least,” Babcock said. “He’s been real competitive. His save percentage is good, he’s gotten confidence, he gives our team confidence, he’s done an excellent job for us so we’re thrilled with what he’s done and we’re not scared of Petr (Mrazek) one bit either but Gus has earned the right to play.”

He’s never faces a former team at any level of his playing career.

“He’s played very well for us, say what you want, but he’s been great,” Daniel Cleary said. “Even last night he made some big stops for us to keep the game tied. Good for him. He’s battled a lot of different things the last couple of years. It’ll be good. When you go play your old team you want to play well.”

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Comments

Down River Dan's avatar

Sorry Paul , as I believe you have mentioned in the past that you like Mr. Hughson.

Just because he is the lead announcer on HNIC ( and imo not a very good one) does not make him an expert.

This whole eastern confrence is tougher than the west is so in vouge. The wings have no doubt lost more mangames ( and important ones at that) than nearly any other team.

I don’t know what the fallout of Rogers taking over the on air talent of HNIC will be, but I for one hope it means the end of mr. Hughson’s tenure as one of its announcers.

Posted by Down River Dan on 12/20/13 at 04:37 PM ET

George Malik's avatar

George here, not Paul. I shook off the boogers.

I think that Hughson is a fantastic announcer, but my *#$%@&’ jaw dropped when I heard him say this stuff. I’m stunned that he’s firing off these suggestions without looking at the rest of the roster, who’s producing (see: Alfredsson is one of the team’s leading scorers, and Franzen, as it turns out, was turning into a point-per-game player), who’s under 35 and who’s earning ice time…

Paul and I had a chat about Hughson’s blather on Skype, and both of us think that Hughson covering Toronto all the time = he no longer pays attention to what’s happening that isn’t Leaf-related.

Posted by George Malik from South Lyon, MI on 12/20/13 at 04:41 PM ET

Avatar

Can someone list any VIABLE defenseman that would likely be traded? I’m not talking about a prodigy Oliver Eckman Larrson, just someone who is in between kronwall and dekeyser.

Posted by Pasha1277 on 12/20/13 at 04:42 PM ET

SYF's avatar

Paul and I had a chat about Hughson’s blather on Skype, and both of us think that Hughson covering Toronto all the time = he no longer pays attention to what’s happening that isn’t Leaf-related.

Posted by George Malik from South Lyon, MI on 12/20/13 at 04:41 PM ET

Emphasized.  Hughson’s words are like water off a duck’s back.

Posted by SYF from Alana Blanchard's Bikinis and Surfboards on 12/20/13 at 04:57 PM ET

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I’m not a big Hughson fan but I think his comments are fair. Every team has had injuries but if you’re an older team, you’re going to have more so stop whining. The Wings also have a tonne of depth but I’m surprised how mediocre it’s been. It’s also totally true that they’ve held on to vets too long. On the old Montreal teams, Sammy Pollock used to get those guys out fast for draft picks. I see Stan Bowman does the same in Chicago.  But I’m hoping I’m proved wrong.

Posted by manitobaredwingfan on 12/20/13 at 05:30 PM ET

George Malik's avatar

I guess Danny DeKeyser, Darren Helm, Gustav Nyquist, Jimmy Howard, Justin Abdelkader, Henrik Zetterberg, and, at times, Brendan Smith and Jonas Gustavsson are all “over the hill.” Pass the Metamucil…

Posted by George Malik from South Lyon, MI on 12/20/13 at 05:35 PM ET

Down River Dan's avatar

I don’t have a problem with hughson offering his opinion on the Wings.

I just wouldn’t hold my breath waiting for a similar shot across the bow regarding the Leafs struggles.

Selfpreservation you know.

Posted by Down River Dan on 12/20/13 at 05:45 PM ET

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The Malik Report is a destination for all things Red Wings-related. I offer biased, perhaps unprofessional-at-times and verbose coverage of my favorite team, their prospects and developmental affiliates. I've joined the Kukla's Korner family with five years of blogging under my belt, and I hope you'll find almost everything you need to follow your Red Wings at a place where all opinions are created equal and we're all friends, talking about hockey and the team we love to follow.