If the Detroit Red Wings and Toronto Maple Leafs continue their current levels of play, HBO will find itself covering a lot of frustration leading up to the Winter Classic.
The participants in the NHL's outdoor New Year's Day showcase have been struggling, though both will be looking to build on victories Saturday night in their only matchup before meeting at Michigan Stadium on Jan. 1.
Detroit's roller-coaster season has hit another dip over the past two weeks, as the Red Wings (16-12-9) have gone 1-4-2 in their last seven. Offensive struggles have been the biggest culprit, with Detroit totaling 12 goals in that span.
The injury-ravaged Wings topped the two-goal mark for the first time in this stretch Thursday, with Daniel Alfredsson scoring his second goal of the game in overtime on a power play for a 3-2 victory over Calgary. Detroit ended a nine-game OT losing streak as well as its six-game overall skid.
"We have to stick to the program. We know if we have a good effort every night, work for a full game we're going to have a good chance of winning games," defenseman Niklas Kronwall told the team's official website after recording two assists. "If we do what we're supposed to do out there it doesn't matter who's in the lineup we should be able to find a way to win. Tonight that was the case."
The HBO cameras following the teams through the outdoor game have been featuring a Detroit club missing eight regulars, none bigger than leading scorer Henrik Zetterberg, who hasn't played since Dec. 1 due to a herniated disc. Second-leading scorer Pavel Datsyuk, however, helped offset that absence Thursday with an outstanding two-way game, recording three assists and a game-high seven shots on goal while finishing plus-1.
"They had a little desperation and hunger in their game down the stretch," the Flames' Mike Cammalleri said.
The Wings will now be trying to get on another hot streak in this up-and-down season. They won five of six Nov. 24-Dec. 1 before the current slump and went 1-3-5 prior to that surge.
Toronto's slump has been a bit more prolonged than Detroit's. The Leafs (18-16-3) have dropped five of seven and are 4-8-2 in their last 14.
Like the Wings, they earned a much-needed victory Thursday by defeating Phoenix 2-1 in a shootout behind James Reimer, who made 34 saves.
"It hasn't been a good feeling around here the past couple days," said winger Joffrey Lupul, who scored the winner in the tiebreaker. "It's funny how even with an ugly, grind-it-out win like that, you come to the rink tomorrow feeling a lot better about yourselves."
Lupul and James van Riemsdyk scored in the shootout for Toronto, which has managed one non-shootout goal in each of its past three games.
The Leafs employed a harder forecheck and more aggressive defensive zone play, though they were outshot 35-27 and 30-19 after the first period.
"I thought we were pretty strong for pretty much the full 60 (minutes) and we did things the right way, so that was definitely an improvement," van Riemsdyk said.
Reimer started in place of No. 1 goalie Jonathan Bernier, who was out with an undisclosed injury. His status for this game is uncertain.
Toronto has taken four of the past five meetings with Detroit, winning 4-3 at home in the most recent one Jan. 7, 2012. The Leafs have won four straight in the series at Air Canada Centre, outscoring the Wings 17-8.