Red Wings-Maple Leafs Preview

Mike Babcock's first meeting against Detroit since leaving the Red Wings to coach Toronto didn't go so well.

He gets another shot Friday night when his Maple Leafs try to keep the visiting Red Wings from a third consecutive victory.

In his second game with Toronto on Oct. 9, Babcock felt taken back a bit when he was honored on the Joe Louis Arena video board for his accomplishments during the decade he spent in Detroit.

''It was nice of them to do,'' said Babcock, who signed an eight-year deal in May worth approximately $50 million to help turn around a flailing Toronto franchise. ''I wish they wouldn't have to do that. I don't coach their team anymore. I'm glad this is all over with.''

Babcock and the Maple Leafs (2-8-2) were even more eager to move on from a 4-0 loss that night. Justin Abdelkader recorded a hat trick, rookie Dylan Larkin had a goal with an assist and Jimmy Howard made 22 saves as the Red Wings (6-5-1) snapped a three-game series skid.

"A little extra special for us to get a win against Babs,'' Abdelkader said.

Almost a month removed from the reunion, the Maple Leafs are still struggling while Detroit has won two straight following a 1-5-1 stretch. The Red Wings' focus Friday is less on their former coach and more about maintaining their modest stretch of success.

"Let's be honest, this is the NHL, it doesn't matter who you're playing, if you don't come out and play your 'A' game, the other team's going to beat you," Howard told the Red Wings' official website.

Babcock gets another good look at Larkin, the talented center he and the Red Wings selected with the 15th overall pick in 2014. The 19-year-old is a team-leading plus-10, tied for second with nine points and has recorded the winning goal in each of the last two games.

''He's done a very good job,'' Detroit coach Jeff Blashill said. ''That's undeniable. His impact on games has been very good.

"I think he'll continue to improve because he wants to improve. He'll get better because he wants to get better."

Despite a lack of victories, Babcock believes his team has made progress in terms of effort and competitiveness. After snapping a six-game slide with Monday's 4-1 win over Dallas, the Maple Leafs were tied with Winnipeg deep into the third period Wednesday before allowing a late tiebreaker and empty netter in a 4-2 loss.

''Lots of good things happened for our hockey club,'' Babcock said. ''I liked our group (Wednesday). We were competitive, we looked organized.''

James Reimer made 30 saves but it's uncertain if he'll make a third straight start in place of Jonathan Bernier, who has been banged up of late. Bernier, 0-6-1 with a 3.02 goals-against average, was pulled after yielding three goals on nine shots against Detroit last month.

Howard has a 1.54 GAA during a 4-1-2 stretch against Toronto, but could give way to Petr Mrazek as Blashill continues to split time between his two goaltenders. In his only appearance against the Maple Leafs, Mrazek made 37 saves in a 4-1 road defeat Dec. 13.

"It doesn't matter who's in net, I think the team's very comfortable with both of us," Howard said.


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