Kukla's Korner

The Malik Report

Red Wings-Predators set-up and morning report: a game preview wrapped in Winter Classic talk

Updated 3x at 11:57 AM: With the Grand Rapids Griffins-Toronto Marlies game taking place later today and the Alumni Showdowns taking place tomorrow, Winter Classic hype's taking over both Southeastern Michigan and Toronto, and the spectacle of a be-all-end-all Biggest Hockey Game Ever that will theoretically reignite the rivalry between the Red Wings and Maple Leafs is justified...

But the reality of the non-hype situation is that it turns out that both tonight's game between the Red Wings and Predators (8 PM EST, FSD/FS Tennessee/1270 AM) will matter quite a bit, and Wedneday's game will matter even more in terms of two points that both teams rather desperately need to earn in the standings.

The Maple Leafs' 3-2 win over the Carolina Hurricanes last night gave the 20-16-and-5 Leafs 45 points earned over the course of 41 games--and while the Red Wings have won 3 of their past 4 games, including Saturday's 4-3 win over Florida, the 18-13-and-9 Wings have amassed 45 points over the course of 40 games, so they're technically sitting in 4th place in the Atlantic Division because they've got a game in hand, but would have to win both tonight's game and the Winter Classic itself to emerge from both teams' 42nd game of the season to come out on top.

So yes, WXYZ notes that the Hockeytown Winter Festival keeps on hopping downtown...

WDIV noted that there's a synthetic ice rink at the Hockeytown Winter Festival, where the Stanley Cup will appear today and tomorrow...

MLive's Lizzy Alfs noted that the Canadians are coming, and that's a good thing for Ann Arbor...

“There’s something like 40,000 Canadians coming to town. I think there’s going to be a lot of people downtown, people who are looking for somewhere to eat,” said Felix Landrum, owner of Cafe Felix on Ann Arbor’s South Main Street.

“I think we’re going to be really busy in the morning before the game, and I think when the game gets out, people will be looking for somewhere to have dinner,” he added.

The NHL is expecting to not only break the world record for attendance at a hockey game, set at Michigan Stadium at the 2010 Big Chill, but also to break the stadium’s overall attendance record of more than 115,000.

The Ann Arbor Area Convention and Visitors Bureau estimates the Winter Classic will have an overall $15 million impact on the local economy, more than the $10 million generated from Michigan home football games.

Spinoff revenue from previous Winter Classics in Boston, Pittsburgh and Philadelphia has been reported to be between $22 million and $36 million.

And the Maple Leafs' press corps has reviewed the latest episode of 24/7, wondered aloud when exactly Dion Phaneuf's 7-year contract extension will be announced, asked Nikolai Borschevsky to recall his Wings-eliminating OT goal in 1993 (among several articles talking about the Leafs' alums), praised Jonathan Bernier, and, in the Toronto Sun's Mike Zeisberger's case, discussed what may be a tenuous world record for the Big House...

It is being billed as the largest crowd ever to see a hockey game live.

Indeed, Winter Classic organizers estimate there will be about 107,000 tushes stuffed into The Big House on Wednesday. But it won’t be an official world record until the Guinness people say it is.

And just to make certain the numbers jive, an official adjudicator from the Guinness Book of World Records will be in attendance to ensure the ducat-counting process runs smoothly before potentially rubber-stamping a new world mark.

As it stands, Michigan Stadium already holds the single-game hockey attendance record of 104,173 set on Dec. 11, 2010, when Michigan blanked Michigan State 5-0 in a game dubbed “The Big Chill in The Big House.” Attendance on that day was announced at 113,411 but Guinness reportedly only acknowledged tickets that were scanned.

According to reports quoting a U of M spokesperson, the difference between those numbers came because cold temperatures forced ticket-handlers to tear some ducats instead of scanning them. Either way, Guinness will be in the house — in this case, The Big House — to guarantee the crowd numbers are legit on Wednesday.

While praising the Hockeytown Winter Festival's energy...

Hockeytown Winterfest organizers have done a great job around Comerica, home of the Tigers. There are large hospitality tents; there are bands playing for the fans; there is even a synthetic rink in the Comerica parking lot for kids and their parents to skate on. A lot of credit must go to Wings owner Mike Ilitch, who pushed for the Winter Classic events to be divided between Detroit and Ann Arbor in order to pump some energy — and money — into downtown Hockeytown ... Judging by the hundreds of fans in Leafs garb already trickling across the border, the Wings’ Daniel Alfredsson should be hearing plenty of jeers Wednesday from the Toronto supporters, a group estimated by organizers to number around 35,000.

NHL.com sets up tonight's game as follows in its "Daily Primer"...

The Detroit Red Wings are looking forward to playing in the 2014 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic on New Year's Day. But there's still the matter of one more indoor game to deal with first.

The Red Wings play their final game of 2013 when they visit the Nashville Predators on Monday night. Detroit is 1-6-0 this month at home, but the Red Wings have earned at least a point in all six of their December road games, and their 4-0-2 record includes a 4-3 win against the Florida Panthers on Saturday.

The Predators are coming off a 3-2 home victory against the Los Angeles Kings on Saturday night.

...

Detroit Red Wings at Nashville Predators -- The Red Wings got captain Henrik Zetterberg and forward Justin Abdelkader back from injury Saturday. They hope to have speedy center Darren Helm in the lineup against the Predators. He's missed 11 games with a shoulder injury. The Red Wings were one of Nashville's biggest rivals when the teams were together in the Central Division, but following realignment, this is Detroit's only visit to Bridgestone Arena this season.

And the AP's recap of Saturday's Predators win over Los Angeles duly notes that Mike Fisher literally stole the game:

Mike Fisher didn't let this tie last very long. Fisher scored his second goal of the game with 26.4 seconds left -- right after Los Angeles got even -- to give the Nashville Predators a 3-2 victory over the Kings on Saturday night.

Fisher also assisted on Patrick Hornqvist's first-period goal for Nashville, which snapped a five-game losing streak. Anze Kopitar and Jeff Carter scored for the Kings, who have lost two straight.

The teams combined for three goals in the final 3:18. Fisher put Nashville ahead 2-1 with 3:18 left during a power play, scoring with a slap shot from the high slot that beat goalie Ben Scrivens low to the stick side.

Nashville has at least one man-advantage goal in seven of eight games.

Carter tied it with only 36.7 seconds to go after Scrivens was pulled for the extra attacker. But Fisher put the Predators back in front 10 seconds later when his shot from the left side just made it over the goal line.

"Colin (Wilson) made a great play trying to take the puck to the net, and I was just trying to find a hole," Fisher said. "He found me in a great spot, and it just trickled through the goalie."

And while the Predators are without Wing-killer Pekka Rinne, the Wings' old Central Division friend has a superb interim stopper manning the nets in Marek Mazanec, as NHL.com's recap noted:

Mazanec stopped 26 shots. Scrivens, playing for the first time since Dec. 15, made 28 saves in the Kings' second straight loss.

"He made some timely saves when we needed him to and he was calm back there," Trotz said of Mazanec, who earned his first victory in a month. "From our standpoint, it was a combination of solid goaltending and a desperate competitive team going against a fresh, veteran team."

The Predators, who returned home after a 4-1 loss at the Dallas Stars on Friday, got on the board first at 14:42 of the first period. Seth Jones' shot from the right point hit a leg in front and caromed to Fisher in the slot. Scrivens stopped Fisher's wrister, but Hornqvist picked up the rebound and backhanded it into the empty side of the net for his eighth of the season.

"It was a tough turnaround from last night," Trotz said. "I thought they really tried to grind us down, but we stayed with it. I thought as the game went on we got stronger. That shows a lot of character."

Los Angeles got even 7:05 into the second period. With Nashville's Paul Gaustad off for tripping Slava Voynov, the Kings defenseman slipped a pass to Kopitar in the high slot for a wrister that went past Mazanec's glove and inside the left post. It was Kopitar's 12th of the season and his team-high sixth on the power play.

Nashville had a great chance to regain the lead when penalties to Jake Muzzin and Matt Greene gave the Predators 47 seconds of 5-on-3 power-play time. But they did not manage a shot on goal during the two-man advantage and had two that were denied by Scrivens during the 5-on-4 power play.

The Predators broke the tie at 16:42 of the final period. With L.A.'s Tyler Toffoli off for holding, Fisher caught the Kings on a bad line change. He picked up the puck near the red line, raced into the Kings zone and ripped a slap shot from the high slot past Scrivens. But with the Kings goaltender on the bench for an extra attacker, Carter took Kopitar's pass from the right boards and zipped his 12th of the season past Mazanec to make it 2-2.

Mazanec possesses a 6-8-and-1 record with a 2.68 goals-against average and a .911 save percentage, and his first win came in the form of a shutout when the Predators defeated the Wings 2-0 on November 19th.

On Sunday morning, the Tennessean's Josh Cooper noted that the Predators snapped a losing streak in defeating the Kings...

The victory for Nashville (17-18-4) broke a five-game winless skid. The Predators lost to Dallas 4-1 on Friday night after the three-day Christmas break.

“I’ll actually have a nice sleep,” coach Barry Trotz said. “As coaches, we don’t get any sleep until we win another game. It just wears on you.”

Forward Mike Fisher netted the game-winner with 26.4 seconds left in the third period just 10 seconds after Jeff Carter tied the score 2-2.

The Predators out-shot the powerful Kings 24-17 in the final two periods, including 15-9 in the third. Considering Nashville played the previous night and the Kings were rested, the opposite scenario seemed more likely.

“It was a lot of fun. It was fun to get that win and found a way,” Fisher said. “Guys battled throughout the whole game. That was great win for us.”

And he offered context-setting notes:

Jones multi: Defenseman Seth Jones notched two assists — including a secondary helper on the game-winner — for the first multi-point game of his career. Jones played a total of 19:08, his most ice time since Dec. 5 against the Carolina Hurricanes.

“It was nice to get back in the win column,” Jones said. “We lost five straight. and we weren’t playing too badly. We just couldn’t find a way to win, and tonight we did, so it definitely feels nice.

Mazanec shines: Coach Barry Trotz has been slow to praise goaltender Marek Mazanec, often giving more credit to the team than the rookie. That didn’t happen Saturday, as Trotz praised Mazanec for his 26 saves on 28 shots on goal.

“I think he made some timely saves when he needed to, and he was calm back there,” Trotz said. “From our standpoint, it was a culmination of solid goaltending and a desperate, competitive team going against a fresh, veteran team.”

This morning, Cooper suggested that the Predators will hope to find some consistency against their old nemesis...

Jekyll showed up for the Predators on Saturday against the Kings.

For a team that has looked like Hyde lately, it was important. At times when the Predators were playing poorly — two recent five-game winless streaks, for instance — it felt like they would never break out of it.

Now the Predators need to use their 3-2 win over Los Angeles as a momentum builder and get on a consistent run. Of course, after a similar win over the Sharks two weeks ago, Nashville lost five games in a row.

When your team is almost solely built on a starting goaltender — and that goaltender is out with an injury — it’s difficult to maintain any level of consistency. But consistency is what the Predators need most if they’re going to get back into the playoff race.

And again, he tossed off a set of context-setting notes...

Shea Weber deserved a day off. The defenseman played 29:52 on Saturday after playing 32:23 on Friday. That’s a lot of hockey — even with the three off days for the Christmas break — so Sunday’s off day was welcomed. Weber isn’t garnering much Norris Trophy talk, which is likely a result of Nashville’s mediocre record. Yet he averages the fourth-most minutes in the NHL and is second among defensemen with nine goals. Also, he is playing some of the best two-way hockey of his career, which doesn’t show up in the stat sheet.

...

Beating the Kings was a quality win. The Kings have lost just three games this month. They’re also one of the best teams in the NHL. The Predators had to deal with a lot of issues — from playing back-to-back coming off the Christmas break to losing a lead in the final minute — and still won. That victory shows the Predators can beat good teams and that maybe there is some level of potential in this group after all. We’ve always known it has character players, but just not a lot of skill. They Predators just need to find the right mixture for a winning formula. Maybe they found it on Saturday.

Before offering a game preview (and it should be noted that the Predators did not practice on Sunday):

• Predators keys: 1) Beware the bright lights: The HBO 24/7 cameras are coming to Nashville, so the Predators need to stay calm and not pay attention to the large production group that will be walking around Bridgestone Arena. 2) Slow Datsyuk: Forward Pavel Datsyuk is Detroit’s most dynamic player, even at age 35. He’s averaging a point per game this season. 3) Carry it over: The Predators have had momentum-building and character wins, but they’ve squandered such wins. This time they need to beat the Red Wings convincingly to carry over their Saturday win against Los Angeles.

• Injuries: Predators G Pekka Rinne (hip) is out. Red Wings F Johan Franzen (concussion), G Jimmy Howard (knee) and F Darren Helm (shoulder) are questionable; D Jonathan Ericsson (ribs) and F Stephen Weiss (hernia) are out.

The Predators website's game preview is always gigantic, so I'm just going to post this part and leave the rest of Jimmi Russell's epic up to you...

STORYLINES VS. DETROIT
After meeting at least four times in each of the last 14 seasons, these former Central Division rivals meet for the final time in 2013-14 on Monday night at Bridgestone Arena. Nashville is 33-41-(4)-8 against Detroit all-time, but holds the 20-17-(2)-3 advantage against the Wings at Bridgestone Arena.

In their first meeting of the season on Nov. 19 at Joe Louis Arena, Marek Mazanec turned aside all 27 shots he faced to record his first career shutout. Shea Weber posted the game-winning power-play goal with five ticks remaining in the second period, and Gabriel Bourque added an insurance marker in the third, as the Preds defeated the Wings, 2-0

The Wings last appeared in Music City on April 14, when Henrik Zetterberg, Johan Franzen and Justin Abdelkader all scored for Detroit, and Jimmy Howard made 22 saves to defeat the Preds, 3-0.

Weber has seven points (5g-2a) in his last nine regular-season games against the Wings. Nashville’s captain has 23 points (10g-13a) in 46 all-time games against the Wings… Mike Fisher has 11 points (3g-8a) in 201 career games against the Wings… In 68 career games against his hometown team, David Legwand has 41 points (15g-26a). Legwand ranks sixth in goals (206), eighth in assists (345) and seventh in points (551) among Michigan-born NHLers.

NHL.com offers a balanced preview...

Big Story: The Red Wings received a boost Saturday in a 4-3 win against the Florida Panthers with the return of forward Henrik Zetterberg and could get another key player back. Though goalie Jonas Gustavsson (sore groin) didn't practice Sunday and won't play Monday, Jimmy Howard, who has missed three weeks with a sprained left MCL, will dress and could get the start.

...

Red Wings team scope]: Back pain sidelined Zetterberg for 11 games, but he made an immediate impact upon his return with a goal in the Red Wings' win against the Panthers.

Predators [team scope]: Nashville ended a five-game winless streak Saturday with a 3-2 win against the Los Angeles Kings. Forward Mike Fisher scored the game-winner with 26.4 seconds left in the third period, 10 seconds after Kings forward Jeff Carter tied the score.

"I'll actually have a nice sleep," Predators coach Barry Trotz said. "As coaches, we don't get any sleep until we win another game. It just wears on you."

Goalie Marek Mazanec made 26 saves to earn his first win since Nov. 27.

...

Who's hot: Predators defenseman Shea Weber has points in his past five games (two goals, five assists). Rookie Seth Jones (two assists) had the first multi-point game of his career Saturday while seeing 19:08 of ice time, his most since Dec. 5 … Datsyuk has six points (1-5-6) in his past four games. Daniel Alfredsson is 3-2-5 in his past five games.

Injury report: Red Wings center Darren Helm (sprained left shoulder) said he felt good Sunday and could return to the lineup Monday. Right wing Johan Franzen (concussion) is on injured reserve and hasn't skated with the team since his injury Dec. 15. Also on IR is forward Stephen Weiss (sports hernia surgery) and defenseman Jonathan Ericsson … Predators goalie Pekka Rinee (hip surgery) remains on IR.

And the AP/Stats LLC's preview offers the usual amount of statistical context:

Henrik Zetterberg returned Saturday after missing 11 games with a herniated disk, scoring in the first period to help Detroit (18-13-9) earn a 4-3 win over Florida. Zetterberg's 14 goals and 19 assists tie him for the team lead in points with Pavel Datsyuk, who had two assists.

The Red Wings went 3-6-2 without Zetterberg, and they also dealt with Datsyuk missing seven games from Nov. 24-Dec. 7 because of a concussion.

...

Detroit never could get going despite having a healthy roster in its first meeting with its former division rival, falling 2-0 at home to Nashville on Nov. 19 to snap its three-game winning streak in the series.

Howard made 23 saves in that contest, and he's on track to make his first start since Dec. 10 after sitting out the last eight with a sprained left MCL. Jonas Gustavsson, who has gone 3-2-1 with a 3.10 goals-against average in Howard's absence, didn't practice Sunday because of a sore groin.

Shea Weber scored and Marek Mazanec made 27 saves in the first meeting with Detroit, and each played a role Saturday as Nashville ended a five-game losing streak with a 3-2 win over Los Angeles.

...

It's unclear if Mazanec or Carter Hutton will get the start in this contest. Hutton is 0-3-1 with a 4.10 GAA in his last five outings, including four starts.

Howard is 3-1-0 with a 1.01 GAA over his last four against the Predators.

In terms of Red Wings news, 99% of what you're about to read comes from yesterday's practice. The Detroit News's Ted Kulfan summarized the mixed bag of injury news...

Zetterberg said Sunday was a “rest day” but he is playing in Monday’s game.

Gustavsson, who started and won Saturday’s 4-3 victory in Florida, has a sore groin and will not dress. That leaves Howard and Petr Mrazek in net.

Howard (sprained left knee) is optimistic he’ll play, but stopped short of saying for sure after a few moves he tried in Sunday’s practice felt uncomfortable.

“It’s just yesterday (Saturday) I didn’t feel it and today in a couple of movements, I did,” Howard said. “It’s just that knees, for the goalies, it’s a pretty big thing and you want to make sure there’s no risk of going out there. I still think I’ll be out there.”

Helm (shoulder) is also optimistic he’ll return after a good practice Sunday.

“It was a good day, I’m moving in the right direction,” Helm said.

And he noted that Red Wings coach MIke Babcock doesn't plan on allowing his team to look past tonight's game:

“We’re a team that needs points,” Babcock said. “But I’ve said that before and thought we’d go into the Christmas break with a big win and we didn’t. We’ve won three of four games and this team knows how hard it is to get it back when you get off it (a positive streak). We were fine (in Saturday’s win) but not great. We have to get way better to have success (Monday). We can’t turn the puck over. Just craziness, not even under pressure, those are things we have to look after. Those are kids doing it but we can’t have it.”

The Free Press's Helene St. James penned an injury-spanning article on Sunday evening, noting that Jimmy Howard will need to get medical clearance to play...

Gustavsson’s unavailability means either Jimmy Howard will start, or back up Petr Mrazek. Howard has been out three weeks with a sprained left knee, but has, for the past week, targeted Monday as his return date, which would be timely since Wednesday’s game is the Winter Classic doozy.

So is Howard ready to play?

“It’s one of those things right now,” he said, “where I still don’t know. I felt it a couple times in practice.”

Howard said he’d talk to the team doctor in the afternoon to get his opinion on whether Howard should cede the net for a couple more days.

Darren Helm is hoping to be back soon after dealing with an injured left shoulder; his update was the same as the day before — he’s doing more, and “there’s a chance,” he may play Monday.

Zetterberg just returned Saturday at Florida, scoring at goal in the 4-3 victory in what was his first appearance after being out 11 games with back pain.

MLive's Ansar Khan also took note of Howard's status...

“It’s one of those things where I still don’t know,” Howard said after practice Sunday. “Yesterday I didn’t really feel it, and then today in a couple of movements, I did (feel soreness in the knee). We’re going to make a phone call to Dr. Plagens (team physician Doug) and see if there’s any risk.”

But Howard added, “I’m really optimistic that I’ll be back in there tomorrow.”

Howard and rookie Petr Mrazek will dress because Jonas Gustavsson is out with a sore groin. Howard’s last appearance was in a 3-2 shootout loss at Florida on Dec. 10.

“I’ve missed being out there and competing with the guys,” Howard said. “It’s tough when you’re sitting there and watching and you feel you can do something for the team but you can’t. If I do get the chance to play (Monday), I’ll be excited and bring some of that excitement into the room.”

While pointing out that, should Jonas Gustavsson not be ready for the Winter Classic, Babcock has no qualms about starting a slightly rusty #35...

“He’s been in the nets a lot,” Babcock said. “He’s got lots of NHL experience. He’s a good goalie. I’m not concerned about him one bit.”

And Khan also took note of Helm's status:

After a good practice on Sunday, Helm said there was a good chance he could play Monday.

“It was a good day today, I moved in the right direction," Helm said. "Hopefully tomorrow it feels the same way, or better."

Helm, whose main concern is how the shoulder will respond to contact, said he did a little more on Sunday.

“I did some keepaway stuff with (Daniel Alfredsson) and a couple other guys and made sure Tag (Todd Bertuzzi’s son) didn’t touch the puck too much," Helm said. "It was good. I got my confidence going.''

Helm provided a huge lift after he returned on Nov. 2, following a lengthy absence due to a back injury and, more recently, a pulled groin. He has seven goals and three assists in 15 games. Helm skated on a line with Tomas Jurco and Justin Abdelkader on Sunday.

The Macomb Daily's Chuck Pleiness also took note of Helm's comments...

“There’s a chance, always a chance,” Helm said. “Good chance, I think. I don’t know. It was a good day, I moved in the right direction. Hopefully tomorrow it feels the same way, or better, it would be great and then we’ll talk about it after.”

As well as a few more from Howard:

If Howard is OK to dress as the backup then he wants to play.

“I’ve missed playing, I’ve missed being out there and competing with the guys,” said Howard, who was injured at practice on Dec. 11. “It’s tough when you’re sitting there and watching it and you feel you can do something for the team but you can’t. For me, if I do get the chance to play tomorrow, I’ll be excited and bring some of that excitement into the room.”

Howard said he’s not put a lot of thought into the possibility of his first game back being in the Winter Classic on Jan. 1 at Michigan Stadium.

“All along it was getting back for tomorrow night so we’re going to take it one step at a time and try to get me ready to go for tomorrow night,” Howard said. “

The reality of the situation is that the Wings won't know what tonight's roster will look like until the morning skate--which will take place around 12:30 or 1 PM EST--and Paul will be covering that as I'll be in transit to Michigan Stadium to pick up my credential and then to Comerica Park to cover the Griffins-Marlies game.

 

 

 

As you might expect, however, the thrust of this morning's Wings coverage involves the team's preparations for and expectations regarding the Winter Classic. MLive's Ansar Khan spoke with the Wings about their past and soon-to-be-present outdoor experiences and expectations...

Henrik Zetterberg is one of six current Red Wings who played in the 2009 Winter Classic at Wrigley Field, a 6-4 victory over the Chicago Blackhawks.

“I think this time around it’s going to be even better, to be on home turf and play in front of that many people,” Zetterberg said.

Pavel Datsyuk, Daniel Cleary, Niklas Kronwall, Mikael Samuelsson and Johan Franzen (out with concussion) also played in that game five years ago.

“The whole idea of playing outdoors was cool,” Cleary said. “Pretty much all of us (except then goaltender Ty Conklin) hadn’t played outdoor hockey in 20 years. Playing at Wrigley, with the fighter jets going over, it was a pretty cool experience.”

...

Said Tomas Tatar: “This is going to be huge, a big rivalry and so many fans. I think this is going to be a memory in my heart forever.”

Drew Miller is looking forward to his first outdoor game, after watching from the stands at Spartan Stadium in 2001 when brother Ryan manned the nets for Michigan State in the Cold War against Michigan.

“Skating at Comerica was pretty fun and kind of gets you ready for it,” Miller said. “At Comerica, the rink seemed so small and had that wide-open feeling. I think it’s going to be even more so at the Big House. So you got to get used to that.”

Both teams will practice at Michigan Stadium on Tuesday, in sessions open to the public (the Red Wings are on at noon, the Maple Leafs at 3 p.m.).

I did not know that the sessions will be open to the public!

The Detroit News's Ted Kulfan spoke to the Wings about dealing with the cold temperatures forecast for Wednesday (highs between 15-19 degrees)...

“It’s probably easier for us than the fans,” said forward Henrik Zetterberg, who along with the other Swedes on the team, played outdoors extensively in youth leagues. We’re moving around. The last time in Chicago (in 2009) you started with a lot of clothes underneath and each period you took more and more off.”

That game, a 6-4 Red Wings victory, incidentally, was played beneath overcast skies in 32 degrees with an 18 mile per hour wind.

“By the end of the game, it was as if it were a normal game,” Zetterberg said.

And DetroitRedWings.com's Bill Roose's "Look Ahead in Hockeytown" is a MASSIVE missive whose focus is the Winter Classic, which Roose says is the 646th regular-season game between Detroit and Toronto:

While it’s been five years since the Red Wings defeated the Blackhawks in the 2009 Winter Classic at Chicago’s Wrigley Field, most of the current Detroit players weren’t on the NHL roster then. But that doesn’t mean they’re all rookies to the outdoor games, which have gained popularity in the last decade.

For defenseman Brendan Smith, the thought of playing on an outdoor rink brings back memories of his game-winning goal that helped Wisconsin upend Michigan at Camp Randall Stadium in 2010.

“It’s going to be such a great experience. Just to experience the whole atmosphere is going to be amazing. I’m ecstatic,” said Smith, who calls his third-period goal against Michigan one of his top five hockey moments.

Six current Wings played in the ’09 game: Daniel Cleary, Pavel Datsyuk, Johan Franzen, Niklas Kronwall, Mikael Samuelsson, and captain Henrik Zetterberg, who is looking forward to the atmosphere leading up to the big game.

“The whole experience, the day before, the skate we had with family and friends, the next day having the game, just playing in a different venue,” Zetterberg said. “I think this time around it’s going to be even better, to be on home turf and play in front of that many people. Everyone knows what’s coming around the corner. It’s going to be an important game. Both Toronto and us haven’t played great lately. It was a big win against them last time we played. The next one’s going to be even more important.”

The game’s outcome will have a significant role in the Atlantic Division standings as 11 points separate the first-place team from the fifth-place team. Entering Sunday’s schedule, the Wings (18-13-9) had a two-point lead over the fifth-place Leafs.

NOTEBOOK: So rich is the history between these two famed organizations that 145 players have worn both the Winged Wheel and Maple Leaf in their playing careers. But only one player managed to play in at least 500 games for both clubs – Hockey Hall of Fame forward Norm Ullman, who began his career in Detroit in 1955. He eventually played in 875 games for the Wings before he was part of an eight-player trade that sent Frank Mahovlich, Garry Unger and the rights to Carl Brewer to Detroit in 1968. … Since 1926, the Red Wings and Maple Leafs have battled 645 times in the regular season with Detroit claiming a 276-273-96 all-time record; 170-107-48 at home.

And Roose continues at extensive and extended must-read length.

 

 

 

Also of Red Wings-related note: Two Pavel Datsyuk goals made SI's "13 best NHL goals of 2013" list...

And you can consider this quip from the Tampa Bay Times' Joe Smith a rebuttal to the Free Press's Helene St. James' report that Jimmy Howard will make Team USA's Olympic cut:

According to a Sunday report in the Detroit Free Press, the Red Wings' Jimmy Howard — not the Lightning's Ben Bishop — will be the third goalie for the U.S. Olympic team in February, joining the Sabres' Ryan Miller and Kings' Jonathan Quick. The teams will be announced Wednesday after the Winter Classic. But Dave Fischer, senior director of communications for USA Hockey, told the Tampa Bay Times the "final roster has not yet been settled on," though it's "certainly very close." Fischer said players will find out their fate during the televised announcement.

Finally, today kicks off three days' worth of absolute craziness for me. I am going to do my absolute best to cover as much as I possibly can, but I'm not going to get everything.

I will catch up with the morning skate once I get settled in at Comerica Park, and I will probably not post a Quick Take as I will likely be driving home during the Wings-Preds game, so I'll have to watch the 12 AM re-airing and cobble a recap together as I write it.

I will be attending the Alumni Showdown and can't be in two places at once, so I won't be able to cover the Wings' practice at Michigan Stadium...

And in general, I'm going to be getting about 4 hours of sleep tonight and 4 tomorrow, before a game that's going to be covered by EVERY FRICKIN' MEDIA OUTLET, so I cannot promise that I'll be able to snag every little story. I can only do the best I possibly can to find as much as I can, but if I miss something, I'm sorry.

 

 

Update: For the record, in the prospect department:

In the QMJHL, Phillipe Hudon was held off the scoresheet as his Victoriaville Tigres defeated Shawinigan 5-0;

Sans Anthony Mantha, the Val-d'Or Foreurs lost 3-2 to Rouyn-Noranda;

In the OHL, outdoors at Comerica Park, the Jake Paterson-less Saginaw Spirit lost 6-5 to Windsor;

Inside, Tyler Bertuzzi remains absent from the Guelph Storm's lineup, but Guelph defeated Erie 5-2;

Andreas Athanasiou scored a goal, registered an assist, finished at +2 and was named the second star of the Barrie Colts' 5-3 win over Mississauga;

And Zach Nastasiuk was held off the scoresheet and did not score in the shootout, but his Owen Sound Attack defeated Sarnia 3-2 in a shootout.

Update #2: If you care, the Toronto Sun's Lance Hornby (via RedWingsFeed) reports that Maple Leafs forward Jerry D'Amigo has Ann Arbor ties as he was a member of the U.S. National Team Development Program.

Update #3: Via RWF again, here's the Windsor Star's Bob Duff speaking with the Wings' players:

Though he’s never done it at the NHL level, Wings defenceman Brendan Smith skated in an outdoor game at Camp Randall Stadium while playing NCAA hockey at Wisconsin, calling it one of the top five moments of his playing career.

“It was really cold,” Smith remembered. “I can’t remember temperature but my dad said it was colder there than it will be for the Winter Classic. I just remember people with no shirts on, partying. It was quite an experience. I can only imagine what it’s going to be like on a bigger stage and in a professional game.”

Not every Wing is an outdoor veteran. This will be the first outdoor game for Drew Miller, though he took in the Michigan-Michigan State outdoor game at Spartan Stadium in 2001 when his brother Ryan was the goalie at Michigan State.

“I think this is going to be a pretty unique experience, just with the size of the crowd and being in Michigan, for my family and all that,” Miller said. “I’m definitely anticipating it and looking forward to it.”

Miller fondly recalls playing pond hockey as a child.

“We used to skate on a lake in middle school,” Miller said. “Skating outdoors at Comerica (during a practice last week), that was pretty fun and kind of gets you ready for it. Practice (Tuesday) at the Big House should be big. At Comerica the rink seemed so small and had that wide-open feeling. I think it’s going to be even more so at the Big House. It’s going to feel real small on the ice, so you’ve got to get used to that and adjust.”

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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.