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Daily Primer Dec. 21: Winter Classic warm-up

by John Kreiser

The next time the Detroit Red Wings and Toronto Maple Leafs get together, they'll do it in front of about 107,000 fans outdoors at Michigan Stadium. For the dress rehearsal to the Jan. 1 Bridgestone 2014 NHL Winter Classic, "only" 19,000 or so fans will pack Air Canada Centre on Saturday night.

The Original Six rivals will face each other for the first time since Jan. 7, 2012. They're coming into the game off slump-breaking victories two nights earlier: Toronto beat the Phoenix Coyotes 2-1 in a shootout; Detroit defeated the Calgary Flames 3-2 in overtime.

The cameras that are following both teams for HBO's "24/7" series will be in evidence on both sides, though the players will try to ignore them.

"I don't think we're focusing on the Winter Classic as a group, we're focusing on tomorrow's game with Detroit," said Toronto goaltender Jonathan Bernier, who's optimistic he'll be able to dress despite a lower-body injury. "I think right now as a team we need those wins, and [Thursday] night was a really big win for our confidence. We can be happy but not satisfied, because we haven't won too many games lately."

Here's a look at all of the action Saturday:

Calgary Flames at Pittsburgh Penguins-- The Flames wrap up a five-game trip that has seen them lose the past three games but get points in two of those losses. That includes the loss at Detroit on Thursday night. The Penguins are icing a lineup that's loaded with players who began the season with their American Hockey League affiliate, but they keep right on winning. They've won six in a row, including a 5-2 victory against the Minnesota Wild on Thursday night.

Phoenix Coyotes at Ottawa Senators -- The Coyotes continue a swing through the East in which they've struggled to score. Phoenix is 0-1-1 after a 2-1 shootout loss at Toronto on Thursday and has managed one goal in each of its past three games. The Coyotes are still without captain Shane Doan, who's out with an illness that general manager Don Maloney says is a form of Rocky Mountain spotted fever. The Senators started the week with a rousing 3-2 overtime win against the powerful St. Louis Blues, but followed it with losses to the New Jersey Devils and Florida Panthers.

Colorado Avalanche at Los Angeles Kings -- There might not be a lot of goals scored at Staples Center; the last time the Avalanche came to town, they won 1-0 in overtime. Colorado plays the first of two games in California after beating the Edmonton Oilers 4-2 at home on Thursday. Kings rookie goaltender Martin Jones has won each of his first seven decisions; a victory on Saturday would match the NHL record for consecutive wins at the start of a career. Bob Froese went 8-0-0 for the Philadelphia Flyers in 1982-83.

Detroit Red Wings at Toronto Maple Leafs -- This figures to be a special game for Detroit goaltender Jonas Gustavsson, who's expected to get the start. It would be his first appearance against the team he played for in his first three NHL seasons. He's 9-3-2 with the Red Wings this season. The Red Wings should also get a boost from the return of defenseman Danny DeKeyser, who's missed 14 games with a shoulder injury. Toronto coach Randy Carlyle is trying to downplay the "24/7" and Winter Classic hype, saying Friday that this is just "another game on our schedule" and that he wants to build on the shootout victory against the Coyotes on Thursday.

Anaheim Ducks at New York Islanders -- Both teams come to Nassau Coliseum after road victories Friday night, but the Ducks have had a lot more experience winning this season. Anaheim comes to Long Island riding its second seven-game winning streak of the season; a win against the Islanders would give the Ducks a franchise-record eight in a row. The Islanders would gladly settle for two straight; their 5-3 win against the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden was their first in regulation in more than five weeks and their second of any type in nine games this month.

New Jersey Devils at Washington Capitals -- Martin Brodeur will be in goal for the Devils after Cory Schneider played Friday night in a 3-2 overtime loss to the Ducks. Brodeur has won three of his past four starts. The winningest goaltender in NHL history won't have to worry about giving up Alex Ovechkin's 400th goal; Ovechkin reached that milestone Friday night when he hit the empty net to wrap up a 4-2 road victory against the Carolina Hurricanes. He's the NHL leader this season with 29 goals.

Buffalo Sabres at Boston Bruins -- The teams move from Western New York to Massachusetts for the back end of a home-and-home series that saw the Sabres score three unanswered goals in a 4-2 victory Thursday night. Buffalo will be without center Cody Hodgson, who left that game with an upper-body injury, but is expected to dress newly acquired forward Linus Omark. Boston, which has relied on rookie defensemen to step in on an injury-plagued blue line, hopes to have Adam McQuaid (lower body) back in the lineup Saturday.

Carolina Hurricanes at Tampa Bay Lightning -- The Hurricanes' penalty killers had a bad night on Friday, allowing three second-period goals to Washington in what turned into a 4-2 loss. Tampa Bay has changed its game following the loss of Steven Stamkos (broken right leg) last month; the Lightning's offense has gone down markedly, but the defense has tightened up. Ben Bishop is expected to be back in goal after Anders Lindback made 28 saves in a 4-2 victory Thursday night against the Nashville Predators, his former team.

Philadelphia Flyers at Columbus Blue Jackets -- This is the Flyers' fourth game in seven days, though they've played only two teams. Philadelphia split a back-to-back with Washington and will try for a sweep of the Blue Jackets after scoring five times in the third period Thursday night for a 5-4 victory at Wells Fargo Center. Columbus coach Todd Richards had his team spend part of Friday watching the game, the first this season in which a team led by three goals but didn't get a point. The Blue Jackets will have some reinforcements for the rematch: Forward Marian Gaborik and defenseman James Wisniewski were activated off injured reserve Friday.

Montreal Canadiens at Nashville Predators -- This is the second stop for the Canadiens on a six-game trip that will keep them away from Bell Centre until the first Saturday of the new year. The trip got off to a rocky start Thursday when the Canadiens gave up three first-period goals in a 5-1 loss to the Blues. Nashville won 2-1 in Montreal earlier in the season. Don't expect a lot of offense; the teams have combined for 16 goals in their previous five games.

St. Louis Blues at Edmonton Oilers -- Alexander Steen entered 2013-14 having never scored more than 24 goals in an NHL season. He's already matched that total prior to Christmas after scoring twice in the Blues' victory against Montreal on Thursday -- a game played a few hours after he signed a contract extension. The Oilers are back at Rexall Place after an 0-4-0 road trip that extended their losing streak to five games. Part of the reason for Edmonton's struggles has been power-play problems: The Oilers lead the NHL with eight shorthanded goals allowed, including one in a 4-2 road loss to Colorado on Thursday.

Dallas Stars at San Jose Sharks -- The Stars tuned up for their Saturday-through-Monday swing through California by polishing off the Vancouver Canucks 4-1 at home Thursday night behind a goal and two assists by Erik Cole. Dallas has won back-to-back games for the first time since Nov. 13-17. San Jose is glad to be home after a 4-1 drubbing in Los Angeles on Thursday. But the Sharks will be without the NHL's top rookie scorer, Tomas Hertl, who could miss a month after a knee-on-knee collision with L.A.'s Dustin Brown in the first period.

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