TORONTO- Several times this season the Red Wings have caught teams playing the second game of back-to-back contests and tonight in Toronto against the Maple Leafs, the Wings find themselves in the same situation.
On Friday, playing in New York at Madison Square Garden, Toronto dispatched the New York Rangers, 6-3, and now faces a quick turnaround as it hosts the Wings at Scotiabank Arena.
Though Detroit hasn't fared too well this year when playing a team on the second game of back-to-back affairs, it may have caught a break facing the Leafs.
Toronto is 1-6-1 in the second game of back-to-back games and its home record is 1-2-1.
Whether Toronto played Friday or not, Red Wings coach Jeff Blashill told reporters after Saturday's morning skate that it's how the Red Wings play, not so much about the Leafs playing back-to-back.
"We just have to play good hockey, regardless," Blashill said. "We try to play the schedule. When we're on back-to-backs, you have to play the hockey game. Same thing if the other team is on a back-to-back. You have to go out and play good hockey.
"It's not as big a deal as maybe it has been in the past. I don't know what time they got home. The biggest thing is sleep. At the end of it, regardless of who we're playing, or what their schedule was, we have to come out and play really good hockey for 60 minutes."
Since former Red Wings coach Mike Babcock was fired as head coach by Toronto on Nov. 20, the Leafs are 9-4-0 under new head coach Sheldon Keefe. Blashill was asked if he's noticed many differences between the Keefe-led Leafs as opposed to the Babcock-coached Leafs.
"I think there's a couple of areas. Certainly in their D-zone, it's different," Blashill replied. "They're more like the New York Islanders now in the D-zone, where their wings are in the middle of the ice and collapsed and really trying to protect the net front, where Babs (Mike Babcock) historically has been a guy who the term used is cut the top off and have the wings go over to the wall a little more than that. That's a specific area difference.
"They're certainly very active in the O-zone. That would be another area where they're more of a five-man unit, where I think Babs had more of a shooting mentality. I think there's some differences there. In the end, they've got good players that I think when they're confident, like the rest of the league, when you're confident you play way better. They've got good players and when they're confident, they're a really good team."
Confidence is something Blashill has been harping on all season with the Red Wings, but he revealed his own confidence in his abilities as a coach has pretty much remained intact.
"There's no doubt that we're all human now. I would tell you I think the four years of experience prior to this has really, really trained me well to handle a season like this," Blashill said. "I would not want to go through this my first season in the league. To be honest with you, my confidence hasn't faltered one bit, because I focused on drawing from previous experiences and also just focusing on doing everything to the best that I can do. I can't control everything. I can control my attitude and I can control doing the very best I can, and I've done that.
"It's been certainly as big a challenge as anything I've faced in my professional career. (I'd) be lying if (I) didn't say that. The record says that. I think it's a great challenge though. I think it's a great opportunity. It's easy to have great character when things are going awesome. When you go through these types of struggles, it's a great opportunity for me to make sure I'm leading the right way.
"A big piece of that for us is making sure that we have a short memory, making sure we're attacking today. There's not one thing we can do about yesterday, except for learn from it. We've tried to do that. We've tried to not let frustration creep in, even though that's a human emotion. It's going to. We've tried to block it out as much as we can, and then we've tried to take the day head on.
"We got a great opportunity tonight to play Saturday night in Toronto. Let's do everything we can to win the hockey game and keep getting better. So that's been my focus. Am I human where I've had lapses? Of course, but I've always tried to reset myself and say 'Let's worry about today. Let's worry about getting better today.' Both as a group, and as myself individually."
BLASHILL AND YZERMAN TALK EVERY DAY: It may not be a gigantic revelation, but Blashill and Wings general manager Steve Yzerman speak every day.
Yzerman has been more visible this season than previous general manager Ken Holland was during his tenure. He always has his watchful eye on this Red Wings team.
"We certainly haven't spoken about anything like that (job security)" Blashill responded when asked about his relationship with Yzerman. "Steve and I talk every day, we talk about a lot of things. He's at a lot of our practices, a lot of times I'll ask him what he thought and he'll tell me what he thought. I think he's a great resource that way, same thing as we go through the year.
"I think his message to me this summer was similar to his message to me today, make sure our guys are getting better every day, especially our young guys are getting better. We're holding them accountable and they're getting better every day, so that was his message this summer. It really didn't deal with wins and losses, it was more about the individual improvement of players and that's what I'll continue to do. And I believe if your guys get better through the course of the season you're a better team at the end. We're facing this thing head on and we're going to keep continuing to do that every day."
WORLD JUNIOR TOURNAMENT A MUST WATCH: From Dec. 26 -Jan. 5, 2020, the IIHF World Junior Tournament is taking place in the Czech Republic.
Many of this year's top prospects for the 2020 NHL Entry Draft, to be held in Montreal from June 26-27, will be playing, including Canadians Alexis Lafreniere and Quinton Byfield and Russian goalie Yaroslav Askarov.
Several Red Wings prospects will also be participating.
Defenseman Moritz Seider will represent Germany.
Goalie Jesper Eliasson and forward Jonatan Berggren are on Team Sweden and defenseman Jared McIsaac and center Joe Veleno will be playing for Team Canada.
Blashill, who has coached Team USA in the last three Men's World Championships, is an avid fan of the World Junior Tournament.
"I'm looking forward to the tournament. I love the tournament. You certainly want to see some of the prospects but I also love watching the U.S. win," Blashill said. "It's an unbelievable tournament. I've been a part of it. It's a really unique experience, probably as much pressure as they'll face until they get to the National Hockey League. The pressure in that tournament is unfair for the age of the players, to be dead honest with you.
"But it makes for a really neat environment. It's probably a little different when it's in Canada as opposed to Europe. When I was with the U.S. team in Ottawa, that was like nothing I had seen to that point for sure."
Two years ago, Detroit's Filip Zadina put himself on the world stage after having a terrific tournament. In seven games played for the Czech Republic, Zadina had eight points, including seven goals.
"I was dominating with (Martin) Necas, who is playing in Carolina right now," Zadina said. "So we were a pretty good duo to play together so that was huge. It's two years ago but still kind of think about it, when we were there, having a good time together. We did get results for Czech Republic so it was huge.
"It was (also) pretty tough, I guess, because it's way different hockey because you're playing against juniors there. Obviously I was used to playing against men. But it was still good, I liked it a lot. It's always fun to wear the national logo on the chest. It was great."
ANCIENT RIVALS: Saturday will be the 672nd meeting between the Red Wings and Maple Leafs, with the Wings having a 286-285-93-7 edge in the all-time series.