Mike Babcock’s return to his old stomping grounds in Detroit was a little less than triumphant as his former team, the Red Wings, beat his Toronto Maple Leaf squad 4-0 on Friday night.
Forward Justin Abdelkader scored a hat trick and newcomer Dylan Larkin posted his first NHL goal to earn the Red Wings their victory.
Friday’s win against Babcock’s new team was “extra special” Abdelkader told the media.
Goaltender Jimmy Howard earned his 21st career shutout for the Red Wings, stopping 21 shots Friday night. With their season opening win, the Wings are getting off to a great start so far this season. The same cannot be said of the Maple Leafs, who droppped down to 0-2 after Friday’s game.
“I don’t think I was surprised at how good Detroit played or anything like that,” Babcock said after the game, “I just think we have to be better.”
Abdelkader opened up the scoring on the Wings first shot, 1:15 seconds into the game, taking advantage of an early power play. He scored again midway through the first.
Larkin’s goal came 20 seconds into the second period. He lifted his shot from the bottom of the left circle over goaltender Jonathan Bernier. The 20,000-person crowd in Joe Lewis Arena erupted in celebration as Larkin pumped his fist.
“It’s an incredible feeling just to see it go in and see the Joe go pretty crazy,” Larkin commented after the game.
Abdelkader’s third and final goal came 3:54 into the second period. Larkin drew 2 defenders as he skated down mid-ice. Abdelkader was able to take advantage of the open ice and seal the deal on his hat trick.
Abdelkader is the first Red Wings player to score three goals in an opener since Brendan Shanahan did it in 2001. He is the first and only player to score a hat trick in a season- and home-opener since Adam Brown in 1945.
After a decade of relative success in Detroit, the Maple Leafs were able to lure Babcock to Toronto with an eight-year, $50 million contract. The contract more than doubles what any other coach is making in the rest of the league. With the Red Wings being the only team to the playoffs every year since the 2005 lockout, the Maple Leafs are hoping for Babcock to bring some of that post-season magic to Toronto.
Toronto has not held the Stanley Cup since 1967 and has only made the playoffs once since 2004. Last season, they were one of the worst teams in the league.
“We’re all sick of losing,” Toronto centre Shawn Matthais told reporters.
It’s a sentiment that the entire Leafs establishment seems to firmly believe.
At Friday night’s game, Mike Babcock and his accomplishments – a Stanley Cup and 525 wins – were honored, being displayed on the video boards at Joe Lewis Arena. He was met with a standing ovation by fans. Babcock acknowledged the cheering fans several times. He appreciated the gesture, but said simple that the Wings did not need to do that as he was no longer their coach.
Despite a rocky start to the season, Babcock is still excited about coaching his new team.
“It’s pretty neat to have an opportunity to be the head coach of the team you grew up cheering for, so I took a moment to certainly enjoy that,” he said.