Detroit Red Wings: Winter Classic preview

The long anticipated Winter Classic at the Big House in Ann Arbor is finally here! The Detroit Red Wings host their “rivals” to the north, the Toronto Maple Leafs, on New Year’s Day. The game will be televised on NBC at 1:00PM EST.

Here are the Red Wings’ major storylines, players to watch, and their key to victory with the countdown to puck drop fast approaching.

Top Storylines

New Hockey Attendance Record

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The Big Chill at the Big House.

Previously, the NHL attendance record was set at the 2008 Winter Classic at Ralph Wilson Stadium when 71,217 packed in to watch the Pittsburgh Penguins beat the hometown Buffalo Sabres. That record is going to be easily shattered Wednesday afternoon as 105,000+ people are expected to be in attendance.

The 2014 Winter Classic is looking to break the largest attendance record ever a for hockey game. Coincidentally, that record belongs to the rivalry between Michigan and Michigan State. The Big Chill at the Big House on December 11, 2010 held 104,173 fans at Michigan Stadium as the Wolverines routed the Spartans in a 5-0 thrashing.

Detroit’s Winter Classic has been hyped up for two seasons now (thanks to the labor stoppage) so there is no excuse why it wouldn’t break the record.

Michigan Weather

Light snow and chilly temperatures are being forecasted for game time. While it’s safe to say the sunshine won’t delay this game, the conditions will no doubt have an effect. Both teams will have to endure it so saying it gives an advantage to one team over another is rather pointless.

One thing is certain though, it’s going to be fun watching them battle through the elements.

A Healthy Boost

The injury bug hit the Red Wings hard during the first few months of the season. However, slowly but surely they have started to filter back into the lineup. Their injury report come puck drop will “only” include 3 regulars: Johan Franzen, Jonathan Ericsson, and Stephen Weiss. A couple weeks ago the Wings were missing about half their team. Getting Henrik Zetterberg, Darren Helm, Justin Abdelkader, and Jimmy Howard back in time for this game will give the team a well needed morale boast.

Players to Watch

Jimmy Howard

Back from his knee injury, Jimmy Howard will have the pressure on him to perform. Jonas Gustavsson has been sensational this season and will be battling Howard for starts heading into 2014. Howard should get the start for the Winter Classic with the recent news of a groin problem for Gustavsson (Howard was probably going to get the start regardless).

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Jimmy Howard had another tough outing in his return. When will he start finding his groove? (AP Photo / Darryl Dyck)

The Wings gave him the money to be their goaltender for the foreseeable future but numerous bad games isn’t helping his cause. Howard will have the stage to start turning his season around.

The Speedsters

I couldn’t limit myself to one player here. Darren Helm, Justin Abdelkader, and Tomas Jurco will get the chance to showcase their wheels as I expect the Winter Classic to be a fast-paced, back-and-forth type of hockey game. The energy in the stadium is going to be electric and the play on the ice should follow suit.

The Danglers

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Hopefully Datsyuk still has a few more dangles up with sleeves.

Sorry, I did it again but it’s not easy spotlighting just three players.

Pavel Datsyuk, Tomas Tatar, and Gustav Nyquist might find it hard to pull off their traditional dekes. I’m not saying it’s going to be impossible because there have been an abundance of slick moves at Comerica Park this week. However, the puck has looked like a bouncing ball at times so it will be interesting to see how the danglers adapt to the conditions.

Key to Victory

This may sound too simple, but the Red Wings shouldn’t over complicate things at this point. Their key to victory is going to be shooting the puck and crash the net. They can’t be looking for highlight goals because they are playing on the big stage. Bring it back to basic hockey fundamentals. Continue to get quality scoring chances and capitalize on rebounds.

They can’t get overwhelmed by the festive atmosphere.

Prediction

Hockeytown will be out in full force in Ann Arbor and I believe in my team. Red Wings 4 – Maple Leafs 3

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