MONTREAL -- Two Original Six teams with gloried histories will meet tonight, but that is just about the only similarity you could find between the Detroit Red Wings and the Montreal Canadiens.
The Red Wings have been the NHL’s model franchise for years, a team with stable management that has followed a well-thought-out plan to produce consistent contenders. The Canadiens once were in that position but haven't been there for quite some time, and currently are enduring a franchise-record Stanley Cup drought of 18 years that in all likelihood will be extended this season.
On paper the game between the League's first-place team and one that sits 24th in the standings should be no contest. And that is exactly what Red Wings coach Mike Babcock does not want his players to be thinking.
"I sure hope not," Babcock said after the Red Wings' morning skate. "I think this team has good players, I know their goaltender's outstanding. They seem to play a tight, organized system. I know they did under Jacques (Martin, former coach), and I know Randy (Cunneyworth) from coaching against him in the minors, so I don't think they'll be any different. It's going to be a tough test for us. I think we understand that each and every night."
Babcock said people should not let the Red Wings' current seven-game win streak fool them into thinking his club simply is steamrolling over the League.
"You know, when you win games, game after game after game, some people on the outside think you're winning them all by a touchdown," he said. "They’re 3-2 and 2-1 every night, it's tight every night. It's a shootout, it's overtime -- it's a grind."
Babcock isn't joking, as four of the Red Wings' wins in their current streak came via the shootout while another came in overtime.
Detroit's last loss was Jan. 10 on Long Island, a situation that is somewhat similar to the one the Red Wings will face tonight in Montreal -- facing an Eastern Conference team sitting near the bottom of the standings.
"The Islanders beat us like a rented mule. It wasn't even fair," said Babcock. "We thought they were the '68 Habs. I'm not trying to take anything away from them, but we weren't ready to go. Sometimes those things happen, it's an 82-game schedule. Yet we've been a pretty consistent team that's found ways to play well without the puck and score enough goals to win most nights."
Star center Henrik Zetterberg said the players want to correct what has been their only fault this season, and that's a 13-13-0 record on the road.
He said playing in the charged atmosphere of the Bell Centre should help the Red Wings.
"We haven't been as good as we wanted on the road, even though we've won a few games lately," said Zetterberg. "I don't think we're playing to the standard that we want. Especially coming into this building, you kind of circle this date early in the year. We're looking forward to this. It's great fans, it's real loud -- we're going to be fired up to play here."