By Ashley Dunkak
DETROIT (CBS DETROIT) – The first episode of “24/7: Road to the Winter Classic” introduced the Detroit Red Wings and Toronto Maple Leafs in terms of their history, their players and the various aspects of where they stand in the overall scheme of this season.
Outside of the big picture aspect, the first episode veered in several directions on both the Detroit side and the Toronto side. 24/7 showed parts of home and away games between the Red Wings game and the Florida Panthers and also included some of the game against the Tampa Bay Lightning. All three games ended as losses.
As usual, though, the most interesting elements of the show came in the details, the individual, smaller-scale story lines.
Goalie Situation: Babcock, while being supportive of starting goalie Jimmy Howard, did not mince words about the expectations for the position and said Jonas Gustavsson will get more time because Howard has not been as sharp as last season.
“The reality is, we need to have strong goaltending to have success in this league,” Babcock said. “Howie’s one of those guys who can carry a huge workload and likes to play, but as long as Gus continues to play well, he should play.
“When I first arrived here, our goaltending didn’t need to be as good as it is now,” Babcock added later. “We used to get way more run support, and now, three’s a big night for us, so we need good goaltending.”
Howard, though he looked a bit somber in his interviews, seemed to be handling his reduced role in a professional manner.
“I understand why Coach decided to do that because Gus has been playing awesome,” Howard said, “and he deserved to play.”
With the Red Wings having lost six of their last seven games now, it is probably safe to say that the position is still somewhat up in the air.
Pavel Datsyuk: At the beginning of the episode, stellar forward Pavel Datsyuk was on the tail end of recovering from a concussion. One scene includes teammates – “He truly is a magician on the ice” – and Babcock singing his praises – “Elite, elite, elite” – while in another his teammates discuss whether he will be playing that night’s game.
Once the question is posed, they again talk about how incredible Datsyuk is. Just as Babcock had earlier done, defenseman Kyle Quincey called Datsyuk maybe the best or second-best player in the world.
“They’re so focused on what he’s going to do and where he is that it just opens up everything for everybody else,” forward Justin Abdelkader said.
“I’ll be honest, if I have the puck and am in the zone, I’m going to look for 13 – nonstop,” added defenseman Brendan Smith.
Indeed, Datsyuk did play, scoring a goal against the Panthers on Dec. 10.
Daniel Alfredsson: After 17 years with the Ottawa Senators, 41-year-old forward Daniel Alfredsson moved his wife and four sons with him to Detroit. The camera showed him and his boys setting up a Christmas tree on the off day and got a look inside his new home. Also, Alfredsson discussed why he came to the Red Wings.
“I didn’t have the intention to leave, I thought I was going to stay, and then talking to [general manager] Kenny Holland and Babcock about what they thought I could bring to their team kind of got me really thinking,” Alfredsson said, “maybe at this stage in my career try something new and also challenge myself on and off the ice.”
Alfredsson’s wife, Bibi, talked about it being something of a struggle to settle in and make new friends, how the kids missed their old life and buddies from home, but she said overall the move had been positive.
Memorable Moments: Evidently, one Babcock ritual involves having a player announce the starting lineup with their own personal twist. In the episode, 23-year-old Tomas Tatar, from Slovakia, introduced his teammates in heavily accented English with descriptions teasing them about age (Alfredsson), pretty boy looks (defenseman Jonathan Ericsson) and nicknames (calling Gustavsson “Loch Ness Monster” instead of just his usual moniker “Monster”). Laughter filled the locker room, and even the often straight-faced Babcock grinned in the background.
Another quick but poignant moment came in an interview with forward Daniel Cleary, who came close to leaving Detroit but ultimately stayed despite having other opportunities.
“I was going to go to Philadelphia,” Cleary said, “and my heart just wouldn’t let me leave.”