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Wings-Leafs: Five things to watch

by Staff Writer / Detroit Red Wings

The Red Wings haven't missed the Stanley Cup playoffs in more than two decades, the longest active streak in the NHL. With the way things are looking, it appears as though the Red Wings will still be playing when the regular season concludes in April.

Coach Mike Babcock and the Red Wings have won eight of their past 10 games and are atop the Atlantic Division heading into this week's Wednesday Night Rivalry game against the Toronto Maple Leafs at Joe Louis Arena (8 p.m. EST, NBCSN, SN, TVA SPORTS).

The Maple Leafs will be playing their second game in as many nights after a 4-1 win against the Calgary Flames at Air Canada Centre on Tuesday. This is the first of two games between these Original Six rivals this week; Toronto will host Detroit on Saturday.

"It's always a great atmosphere, it's always a lot of fun with the 'Let's Go Red Wings' and the 'Go Leafs Go' chants," Detroit goalie Jimmy Howard told the Red Wings website Tuesday. "It always makes for like a playoff atmosphere. It'll be no different [Wednesday]."

Here are five things to watch in the game between the Maple Leafs and Red Wings:

Kessel

1. Kessel aims to solve Red Wings

Maple Leafs right wing Phil Kessel seems to have success against all opponents, but the Red Wings have been a thorn in his side recently; he's been held without a point in his past three games against Detroit. He hasn't reached the scoresheet against the Red Wings since the NHL Winter Classic at Michigan Stadium on Jan. 1.

Kessel scored his 14th goal of the season Tuesday, giving him goals in three of his past four games.

Toronto is 16-2-2 when Kessel and James van Riemsdyk score in the same game.

Datsyuk

2. Datsyuk's dynamite

History has proven that Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg can be lethal for opponents when the two are skating on the same line. But for now, Datsyuk is playing with Darren Helm and Tomas Tatar, and the three are wreaking havoc, combining for nine goals and eight assists in Detroit's past four games.

"The way we're spread out right now is that somebody else can pick you up on a different night, which is positive," Babcock said earlier this week. "I still think at some time we're going to have Pav and [Zetterberg] back together again, especially at home. Maybe play them apart on the road. But all in all they're a good line. But you should have more good lines."

Datsyuk has 12 goals and 10 assists in 17 games. He missed the start of the season because of a shoulder injury and didn't make his debut until Oct. 21. He also missed time last month because of a sore groin. He's healthy now, though, which means the Maple Leafs will have their hands full.

3. Scoring first is key for Toronto

With their win Tuesday, the Maple Leafs improved 12-0-0 this season when they score the first goal. Peter Holland opened the scoring midway through the first period and van Riemsdyk made it 2-0 early in the second. The Maple Leafs are 11-0-0 when leading after 40 minutes.

"The second period was one of the best periods we have played this season from a perspective of playing more of the style of hockey that is required for 60 minutes," coach Randy Carlyle said after the win Tuesday. "Those are the things you try to capture and then give your team an opportunity to watch so they know this is the way we're going to have to do it on a more regular basis."

Howard

4. Howard has put last season behind him

Red Wings goalie Jimmy Howard didn't have great numbers last season (21-19-11, 2.66 goals-against average, .910 save percentage), but he's been solid and will get his 23rd start of the season Wednesday. Howard enters the game with 13 wins and a 2.21 GAA.

"It's been good," Howard told the Red Wings website Tuesday. "There's been a couple games, obviously a couple goals, I'd like to have back, but that's going to happen to any goalie over the course of the season. As a team we're just doing a great job finding ways to win games and I think that's a great sign of a young team maturing."

Reimer

5. Reimer time?

Maple Leafs backup goalie James Reimer hasn't played since Nov. 18, when he allowed six goals on 25 shots in relief of Jonathan Bernier against the Nashville Predators. Bernier made his ninth straight start Tuesday; with a quick turnaround, will Toronto coach Randy Carlyle start Reimer for the first time in nearly a month.

"All the work I've put in the last three weeks, I've not taken a day off and [I'm] just trying to take advantage of every day so that when you get the opportunity you're as well prepared as you can be," said Reimer, who is 4-3-0 with a 3.64 GAA and .898 save percentage. "A game like this, it's all mental.

"You know your legs are going to be there, so it's all about how you can approach it mentally and staying calm and yet still staying into the game as possible and being as alert as possible so that plays you might not get in practice, you're prepared for [them]."

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