Red Wings, Maple Leafs in Winter Classic preview

Thursday, 12.19.2013 / 5:04 PM NHL.com

The Detroit Red Wings and Toronto Maple Leafs will get an up close and personal scouting report on each other Saturday night in advance of the 2014 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic.

Both teams are struggling of late as they collide Saturday at Air Canada Centre (7 p.m. ET, NHLN-US, CBC) in the final meeting between the two clubs before they rendezvous again in front of more than 100,000 people at Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor, Mich., on Jan. 1, 2014.

The second episode of HBO's "24/7" series will air shortly after the conclusion of this game, which will likely earn a large amount of real estate during the series' third episode the following week.

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."

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