Date/Time: January 1st, 1:00 p.m. ET
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The NHL has gotten smart and is playing a lot more of these outdoor games. The first of the bunch this year is the traditional New Year’s Day Winter Classic, which this season, is played at the Big House of Michigan Stadium, where the Detroit Red Wings will take on the Toronto Maple Leafs.
The Leafs just won their 20th game of the season on Monday night, and they now have snared at least one point in five straight games. Keep a really close eye on RW Phil Kessel, who is rounding into one of the big time stars in this league. Few skater faster and harder than Kessel does, and it has paid off these last two games especially. The winger has 20 goals for the season, three of which have come in his last two games, and he leads the team with 20 goals and 37 points. Here’s the issue, though. Kessel doesn’t play defense. The back line for the Leafs is just terrible, as the team is allowing 36.2 shots per game, easily the worst mark in the NHL. Perhaps playing outdoors will help out the defense, as Mother Nature could end up playing her role in all of this with frigid temperatures and snow in the forecast as well. Still, we know that whomever is in the pipes for Toronto is going to have some issues behind a back line which badly needs some improvement before the end of the trading deadline if the Maple Leafs are going to contend in the Eastern Conference playoffs.
Detroit is no stranger to some of these big time games, as this is a team which has had all sorts of luck when its back is pushed against the wall. There might be a time when that comes this year, knowing that the Red Wings’ streak of consecutive postseason appearances could be in some doubt. They do have 18 wins no the campaign, and thanks to nine overtime losses, they are still in fourth place in the Atlantic Division and safe for the time being, but they really need to get healthy in a hurry as we start 2014. G Jimmy Howard, LW Henrik Zetterberg, and C Pavel Datsyuk, all of which missed time in December, are back, but not all is well quite yet. RW Johan Franzen is still dealing with the effects of a concussion, while RW Daniel Alfredsson and reserve G Jonas Gustavsson are both still out of the lineup with a back and groin injury respectively.
The Wings won when these two teams met just few a short days ago 5-4 in a shootout, but they were always the better of the two teams. Toronto has far too many problems going against some of the best teams in the game, and it allows just far too many shots on goal against not getting nearly enough. With the biggest crowd potentially to ever see a hockey game in this country on tap, we have to think that the hosts aren’t going to disappoint.
Toronto Maple Leafs @ Detroit Red Wings Pick: Detroit Red Wings
is a staff writer living in the Orlando area. He has covered NFL, MLB, college football, CFL, AFL, NBA, college basketball, NASCAR, golf, tennis, and the NHL for a number of various outlets in his career, and he has been published by a number of different media outlets, including the Orlando Sentinel and the Wall Street Journal.