Another night, another major NHL storyline. This time, however, the focus was centered off the bench as Mike Babcock returned to Detroit for the first time behind the visiting bench.
After ten years, a Stanley Cup and a solid legacy of success in Detroit, Babcock ditched Hockeytown for the depressing rebuild in Toronto this summer. It wasn't hard to see why; when someone offers you $50 million to work for them you drop everything and join them. And Babcock doesn't seem like the kind of guy who second-guesses himself a lot.
But watching the Red Wings systematically dismantle the Maple Leafs on Friday, you had to wonder if the first sliver of doubt crept in at all in Babcock's mind. The Red Wings under Babcock-appointed heir Jeff Blashill are just as solid as they were under Babcock's watchful eye. Justin Abdelkader's hat trick obviously impressed, but the skill of Thomas Tatar, veteran guile of Johan Franzen and steady play of Jimmy Howard in net all pointed to another successful season in Detroit. And I haven't even mentioned rookie Dylan Larkin yet, who looks like a future star.
Babcock's Leafs, meanwhile, look awfully similar to the lottery team of last season. That's to be expected after trading Phil Kessel and neither shedding nor adding nobody else of note from the roster. But it's clear this season will be a long, arduous journey for the Leafs and their fans. It's a stark contrast to Babcock's former franchise.
But you know what? Babcock probably doesn't care, and nor should he. He knew what he was giving up and getting into when he went to Toronto. In his mind, he didn't have anything left to prove in Detroit. Toronto presented a new challenge, and accomplishing his difficult goals there will surely make nights like the loss in Detroit well worth the effort.
But boy, what a grueling effort it will be.
Red Wings 4, Maple Leafs 0
3 things we learned
1. The Kings didn't exactly inspire confidence
Los Angeles is coming off a down year, but a game at home against the lowly Arizona Coyotes was supposed to be a great opening night appetizer to a comeback season. Instead, it quickly turned into a rout as the Coyotes went up by four goals midway through the game. Jonathan Quick looked especially rusty, even showing some shockingly bad positioning on the first goal that you wouldn't expect from him. The Kings should bury the tape of this game.
2. This will be the year of the rookie
Forget about Eichel and McDavid. Through three nights we've already had a sizable number of rookies score their first NHL goals, and all of them show significant promise for the future. Friday was a showcase for another handful of highly skilled youngsters. Nikolaj Ehlers earned his first point for the Jets. Oscar Lindberg (Rangers), Dylan Larkin (Red Wings) and Max Domi (Coyotes) all earned their first goals as well.
Through three days, 10 NHL rookies have goals: Lindberg, Domi, Fabbri, Eichel, Arvidsson, Donskoi, Panarin, Petan, Larkin and Janmark.— SB Nation NHL (@SBNationNHL) October 10, 2015
3. Marc Staal will punch your face if you hit him high
It was supposed to be Detroit's standing ovation for Mike Babcock, but you wouldn't know it by Mike Babcock's reaction.
Stat of the Night
.@DylanLarkin39 (19y, 71d) is 2nd-youngest in DET history to score a goal in his NHL debut. Youngest: Yzerman (18y, 149d) on 10/05/83. (ESB)— NHL Public Relations (@PR_NHL) October 10, 2015
No pressure, kid.