The NHL’s 2014 installment of the Winter Classic features two of the Original Six teams trying to get their seasons back on track after some uncharacteristic early struggles. Both the Detroit Red Wings and Toronto Maple Leafs are in the middle of the Eastern Conference pack and will be looking to right the ship in front of a record crowd:
2014 Winter Classic officially sold out. Red Wings/Maple Leafs expected to play in front of 107,000+ on New Year's Day at Michigan Stadium— John Buccigross (@Buccigross) November 19, 2013
The annual New Year’s Day game will be played at Michigan Stadium (also known as “The Big House”), marking the first Winter Classic game held in a college football stadium.
Furthermore, the matchup between teams based in America and Canada make it the first international Winter Classic game, and what better teams to choose for the event than two of the Original Six with a rivalry that dates back to 1927.
Detroit and Toronto are two of the most successful teams in NHL history, with 11 and 13 Stanley Cup titles, respectively, but both teams are suffering through midseason crises.
Detroit has been ravaged by injuries, with as many as eight regular rotation players missing time. Captain Henrik Zetterberg, starting goaltender Jimmy Howard, defenseman Danny DeKeyser and center Pavel Datsyuk are just some of the key contributors who have been affected by health issues.
The Red Wings have endured losing streaks of six and seven games in the last one-and-a-half months, so getting healthy and becoming more consistent are high on Detroit’s to-do list.
Toronto haven’t been devastated by widespread injuries like Detroit, but the Maple Leafs have lost three of their top centers due to various injuries, and the weakened position is costing them victories.
The Maple Leafs actually started the year well, opening the season 10-4 and finding themselves in first place in the Eastern Conference. Since that point, however, it’s been all downhill.
Toronto has lost 15 of its last 23 games and tumbled down the standings where it is barely hanging on in the playoff picture.
With both teams struggling so severely, the Winter Classic is going to be an opportunity for each side to open the new year with a win and attempt to build some momentum.
As a result, there will be plenty at stake on New Year’s Day. The importance of the game, the frenzied atmosphere of the record crowd at the “Big House” and storied rivalry will make this one of the most unforgettable Winter Classics in the history of the event.