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Maple Leafs, Red Wings set for Winter Classic preview

by Corey Masisak

RED WINGS (16-12-9) at MAPLE LEAFS (18-16-3)


Last 10: Detroit 3-5-2; Toronto 4-6-0

Season series: This is the first of four games between the teams. The Maples Leafs have won three of the past four against the Detroit Red Wings, who have lost four straight (0-3-1) since last winning at Air Canada Centre, on Nov. 16, 2002.

Big story: This is a preview of the 2014 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic, which will be played 11 days later at Michigan Stadium, but this game features two slumping teams trying to remain in Eastern Conference playoff positions.

Team Scope:

Red Wings: Detroit has been hampered at times this season by injuries, and at times the Red Wings have been decimated by them. Recently, it's been more of the latter. Detroit has been short six of its top nine forwards, a top-four defenseman and its starting goaltender, Jimmy Howard.

The result was six straight losses before a 3-2 overtime victory Thursday night against the Calgary Flames. Detroit had three young forwards who started the year in the American Hockey League, Luke Glendening, Tomas Jurco and Riley Sheahan, in the lineup, but it was veterans Daniel Alfredsson and Pavel Datsyuk who played roles in all three goals.

Maple Leafs: Toronto has had injuries as well, especially at the team's shallowest position. There were questions about the team's skill and depth at center before the season began, and coach Randy Carlyle has tried wing James van Riemsdyk in the middle a couple of times to compensate. Having two of the four centers they began the season with and one of the original replacements out of the lineup has been problematic to say the least.

Even with a healthy lineup, there were advanced statistics that suggested Toronto's hot start (10-4-0) would not last, and it has not. The Maple Leafs are 8-12-3 since then, though they did top the Phoenix Coyotes in a shootout Thursday. They have one win in regulation (a surprising 7-3 thumping of the Chicago Blackhawks) since Nov. 19.

Who's hot: Alfredsson has four points in his past four games. … Toronto goaltender James Reimer has stopped 138 of 148 shots (.932 save percentage) in his past four starts, but has two wins to show for it.

Injury report: Detroit defenseman Danny DeKeyser (shoulder) is expected to come off the long list of injured Red Wings to play against the Maple Leafs. Captain Henrik Zetterberg (back) told reporters he hopes to return Dec. 28 against the Florida Panthers. General manager Ken Holland told Detroit Sports 105.1-FM that Howard (knee) could return for the Winter Classic or the game prior, on Dec. 30 against the Nashville Predators. Holland also said Darren Helm (shoulder) could return Monday. The rest of the injured list includes forwards Justin Abdelkader (head), Stephen Weiss (groin), Johan Franzen (concussion) and Gustav Nyquist (groin). … Toronto centers Tyler Bozak (upper body), Dave Bolland (ankle) and Trevor Smith (hand) are out, along with right wing Colton Orr (elbow). Jonathan Bernier (lower body) is day-to-day.

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