This Week's Work: Toronto Maple Leafs at Detroit Red Wings (Saturday, CBC, CBCSports.ca, 7 p.m. ET, 4 p.m. PT)
This is a game in which the oft used expression 'men against boys' becomes literal instead of figurative.
The Red Wings are the oldest (average age 31) and certainly the most experienced team in the league, methodically trying to get healthy and be ready for the playoffs.
The Leafs are one of the youngest (average age 25) and inexperienced teams trying to play pedal-to-the-metal hockey right to the end, no matter what.
While this season isn't the best in a great Red Wing run, they still do a lot of things the Leafs only aspire to.
One of Mike Babcocks favourite expressions is "Get started on time" and his team usually does. They take lots of shots and try to seize the game early while the Leafs often seem nervous and unsure about what kind of game it's going to be, and consequently have been outscored 93-63 in first periods .
At the other end of the game the Wings are usually excellent at closing out opponents when they have them down. This season Detroit is 34-2-6 with the lead into the third period and while Toronto hasn't lost outright at 18-0-8, they just don't put themselves in that position often enough and in the last month let a few too many extra points slip away.
Detroit has long been one of the best at making opponents pay for transgressions. The Red Wings have scored the game winning goal on a power play 11 times this season (San Jose is tops at 16). Toronto with a game winner on the PP in Colorado on Thursday has done it five times but it's gone the other way too often. Conversely, the Leafs have lost games on a PPG against 11 times.
More than anything though the Red Wings play their game, as opposed to reacting to others. They understand score and time so they chip, dump, change and gamble at the appropriate part of the game.
This year's Wings aren't without blemishes. They give up too many goals and look rather brittle but they are still the standard by which top teams are measured and a lot can be learned from the way they play.
In the spotlight
The partnership of Dion Phaneuf and Keith Aulie isn't quite Nick Lidstrom and Brian Rafalski yet but it's been a good one for the Leafs and it's made the trade that brought them both from Calgary look pretty darn good.
In 21 games since they started playing together, Phaneuf has put together his best offensive run of the season with five goals and nine assists for 14 points. He's playing with more of the confidence he showed in his first two seasons in Calgary and the decision to make him captain doesn't look quite as ponderous. Maybe he's better for the trust he has in his partner.
Aulie, at just 21, is maturing in the NHL game rapidly. He's had just five minus games since his recall from the AHL while playing big minutes against the top line on every other team.
More importantly, the Leafs are 11-5-5 since the partnership began.
Since assistant GM Dave Nonis is credited with insisting Aulie be in the trade package from Calgary last year and since he's the general manager of Team Canada at the upcoming world championships, you wonder if he might like to take this pair to Slovakia?
On the Hot Stove
Once again it seems the Red Wings will enter the playoffs with their biggest question mark being in goal.
Jimmy Howard could lead the league in wins this season but his save percentage (.909) is 29th and his goals-against average ( 2.77) is 31st in the league.
Overall the Red Wings aren't having a good year defensively. They're 17th in goals against and even the great Lidstrom could be a minus player for the first time in his career.
Similar doubts were cast upon Chris Osgood and even Mike Vernon before they went on to win Cups but the difference for Howard might be that this edition of the Wings is leaving him far more exposed.
Detroit got the Cup final in 2009 with a rank of 17th defensively but in their last three championship years they never ranked lower than 7th.
While these teams are 17 points apart in the standings and a world apart in experience they haven't been much different since the all star break. In fact, the Leafs have more points.
Since Feb 01:
Detroit 16-8-0 32 pts
Toronto 15-6-5 35 pts
If it all comes to an end for Toronto on or before April 9th they'll look back and find the season was lost between October 18th and December 31st when they went 9-19-3 and lost sight of the pack.
The remarkable story of Maple Leafs goaltender James Reimer just keeps getting better. The likeable 23-year-old sometimes looks tired or gives up juicy rebounds but he battles hard to stop the puck and keeps racking up wins. Reimer is now 12-3-1 on the road with a 2.51 GAA and .925 save percentage. He's an astounding 8-0-1 in his last nine decisions away from home.
From the stat pack
With the playoffs just around the corner here's a look at which teams have the most experience going in and some other notables.
Most playoff games played on current rosters:
1 Detroit 1929
2 Philadelphia 997
3 New Jersey 828
4 Montreal 794
5 Pittsburgh 789
6 San Jose 774
10 Chicago 683
12 Vancouver 624
25 Toronto 257
30 NY Islanders 54
Do you have improvements to suggest for this page?