Several departures and some key absences seem to have played a major role in the Detroit Red Wings’ slow start. They appear to be adapting to the change in game plan, winning a season-high three in a row heading into their lone meeting of the regular season with a longtime rival.
The Red Wings look to continue their strong play Saturday night when they visit the Toronto Maple Leafs in an Original Six matchup.
Last season, Detroit (7-4-3) led the NHL with 295 goals and averaged a league-high 3.3 in the playoffs while falling in seven games to Pittsburgh in the Stanley Cup finals.
The Red Wings have failed to duplicate that type of production in 2009-10 after losing Marian Hossa(notes) and Mikael Samuelsson(notes) in free agency to Chicago and Vancouver, respectively, while Jiri Hudler(notes) opted to play in Russia. That trio of right wings combined for 82 goals with Hossa accounting for a team-high 40.
Those losses have forced coach Mike Babcock to implement a more defensive approach, and it appears to be paying off after opening the season with a 3-4-2 record.
The Red Wings won their third straight and fourth in five games (4-0-1) by beating San Jose 2-1 in a shootout Thursday. They’ve outscored opponents 7-2 during the winning streak, and are in position for their first four-game run since March 14-20.
“We’re not going to win the same way we did before,” Babcock said. “We don’t have the team to do that.”
Henrik Zetterberg(notes) is doing his part to pick up the scoring slack, getting a goal in each of the last two games and three in the last four. The center also had the deciding goal in the tiebreaker Thursday after scoring early in the third period to force overtime.
Another key contributor has been goaltender Chris Osgood(notes), who has allowed only two goals on 84 shots to spur the winning streak. The hot stretch comes after he gave up two goals on four shots and was pulled 7:05 into the first period of a 5-4 win at Vancouver on Oct. 27.
“He gave us confidence to play well in front of him,” Zetterberg said of Osgood’s season-high 33 saves against the Sharks.
The Red Wings opened last season at home by dropping a 3-2 decision to the Maple Leafs on Oct. 9, 2008. Detroit fell 3-2 in overtime during its last visit to Toronto on Feb. 9, 2008.
The Maple Leafs (2-7-5) are looking to win consecutive games for the first time this season after overcoming a two-goal, first-period deficit to beat NHL-worst Carolina 3-2 on Friday. Jason Blake’s(notes) power-play goal with 8:24 left to play gave Toronto the lead for good, as it snapped a four-game slide, during which it got at least a point in each contest.
“Whenever they scored, we seemed to sag at that point - maybe feeling sorry for ourselves,” coach Ron Wilson said. “We have to get mad at some point. I said to the team, ‘We’ve only got one win in 13 games. When’s somebody going to get mad?’”
Wilson may use Jonas Gustavsson(notes) in goal for a second consecutive game after he made 30 saves against the Hurricanes. The rookie is 2-2-3 with a 2.84 goals-against average, while Vesa Toskala(notes) has struggled by going 0-2-2 with a 5.13 GAA in five games.