DETROIT -- Last year the Red Wings faced off against the Montreal Canadiens in a spirited matchup at Joe Louis Arena.
Everyone agreed it was one of the better games of the season. But it could have been even better, according to coach Mike Babcock.
At the time, Babcock said they could have held it outdoors at Michigan Stadium in front of a crowd close to 100,000.
Instead, Michigan and Michigan State played there in the Big Chill in front of an official crowd of 85,541, according the the Guinness World Records.
As the New York Rangers prepare to face the Philadelphia Flyers in Monday's 2012 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic at Citizens Bank Park, it's time to start thinking about metro Detroit getting a shot at one.
"It would be awesome to do it one more time, for sure," Tomas Holmstrom said. "It was a great experience in Chicago. To celebrate New Year and the family was there in Chicago. It was the perfect day for it, too. It was fun the day before, the families were there, we skated outside. It was a great experience, something you'll remember the rest of your life."
The Wings played in Chicago's Wrigley Field in the 2009 edition of the Winter Classic.
Babcock said the Wings would welcome the opportunity to host the event.
"We're obviously hopeful," he said. "We got to play in one at Wrigley Field. It was a fantastic event. I know I'm looking forward to watching the one (Monday). Anytime you get a chance to play outdoors, I think it's a great thing. If we could do it in Michigan, it would be great for our fans and great for our franchise, great for our trademark, so a real good thing."
Wings defenseman Mike Commodore said he hadn't played in an official outdoor game since he was a kid.
"That would be fun," Commodore said. "Its turned into a really big thing. The ratings are really high. The way theyre doing it at all these different venues, like Wrigley Stadium is really cool. I like baseball, watch a lot of baseball, so having it played at a baseball stadium would be cool on that level, too."
Niklas Kronwall, who played in the Wrigley Field game, said he'd like to try playing in a big football stadium here in Michigan. He said he was surprised at how much he enjoyed it.
"I'll admit, I was a little skeptical at first," Kronwall said. "I thought it was going to be freezing, that it wasn't going to be that much fun, but as soon as you get out there, you had a blast. Even skating around in practice was awesome. We were so lucky with the weather, too, it was perfect."
One Wing who has played in an outdoor game is rookie Joakim Andersson, who played in the Swedish Elite League's Outdoor Classic in which his team, Frolunda HC, defeated Farjestads BK, 4-1, in front of a European League record crowd of 31,144.
"I got to play in the game, it was the year before I came over," Andersson said. "It was fun. Special feeling to play outside with a large crowd. It was pretty cool. We are rivals. It was an unbelievable game. I kind of had goose bumps at the start.
"Playing in one here would be great, lots of fun for everyone."
One of the things that has changed since the Wings were in the Winter Classic is the partnership with HBO, which does a behind-the-scenes show called "247."
That aspect Babcock is not so sure about.
"I think it's great for the game, I think it's great for the players," Babcock said. "Myself, I'd rather not be involved in it but if that's part of what you've got to do to have the Winter Classic, you gotta be involved. The game's about the players. And I think as a coach, the more you're in it, the more you understand that it's about the players. I like the attention to be on the players."
Abdelkader makes the Blues pay
Don't mess with Justin Abdelkader -- that's the lesson the St. Louis Blues learned Saturday night.
After getting a shoulder to the head midway through the first period, Abdelkader fell to the ice twice and then went to the dressing room for concussion testing.
Abdelkader returned to start the second period.
After Johan Franzen gave the Wings a 1-0 lead at 7:28, Abdelkader benefited from a steal by fellow Michigan State Spartan Drew Miller and scored from the slot at 8:45.
"It's good to come back from a hit like that," Abdelkader said. "I felt good right off the bat in the first period. It was good to come back and help the team out. I didn't see the
hit, but I definitely got hit in the head. At least it felt that way. I haven't seen a replay yet."
Babcock did see the hit and didn't like it, but he did like the way Abdelkader responded.
"I don't like the hit, the hit should be a suspension, for sure," Babcock said. "But I thought Abby did a real good job and he played well the last two periods, more ice time. He played against good players and played well."
Miller, who is playing with Abdelkader and Danny Cleary, said his linemate is making the most of his ice time.
"He's on fire right now," Miller said. "Two big goals the last two games, he's played well. He stepped up with Helmer (Darren Helm) being out."
Jiri Hudler rounded out the scoring at 19:07 of the second period.
Another great night for Howard
Jimmy Howard collected his fourth shutout of the season Saturday night and ninth of his career.
He has been in goal for every game of the Wings' 12-game home winning streak. In that span Howard is 12-0-0 with a 1.34 goals-against average, .946 save percentage and three shutouts. His 23 wins leads the NHL.
"Jimmy's been great," Miller said. "He's definitely been one of our best players if not our best player night in and night out. That's a good thing when your goalie is playing like that, making those saves and giving you a chance to win night after night. You count on him to make the big saves and he comes up for us."
Howard was particularly spectacular in the first when he denied Matt D'Agostini alone at the right doorstep with his glove.
"I had an open net and I didn't capitalize on it," D'Agostini said. "It came back to haunt us. I just thought I had him. That I was just going to slide it in. But he came across."
Even though he's had a great start to the season, Howard is never satisfied.
"It was a good bounce back," Howard said. "I thought I was OK in Chicago (3-2 loss Friday), but I felt I could have been better for the guys."
Babcock said he doesn't know when he might give Howard a rest, especially since he said he looked it up and saw that four or five other goaltenders have actually played more.
"I thought Howie was good," Babcock said. "I thought our team was good. Howie made a huge save in the first period, actually two of them, allows you to get going. Obviously our team played pretty well in the second, took the game over. We gave Howie a little too much action for my liking in the third. I didn't think we needed to do that but he was up to the task. Good win for our team."
Good timing for Nyquist and Andersson
Gustav Nyquist and Andersson got called up at just the right time. Both players have family visiting from Sweden.
Nyquist's parents and brother, Oscar, flew into Chicago and drove to Grand Rapids, only to turn around and drive back to see Nyquist play against the Chicago Blackhawks Friday night.
"I thought it was pretty special," Nyquist said. "My brother's 18, he plays hockey, too. This was his second or third NHL game. He thought it was pretty cool, I think."
Nyquist is comfortable playing with Andersson, not because they're both Swedish but because they often play together in Grand Rapids.
"He's a great guy," Nyquist said. "He's been playing tremendously down in Grand Rapids. He really deserved to be up here and show what he's capable of. It's fun to play with him. We played a lot down in Grand Rapids together. I enjoy playing with him. He's a great player."
Nyquist said Andersson, who is 6-2, 198 pounds, usually plays center. The two are playing on the wing with center Cory Emmerton while Holmstrom and Helm recover from groin injuries.
Nyquist said Andersson could someday be like Holmstrom.
"Two-way forward, very strong defensively and can also produce some numbers offensively," Nyquist said. "He's big and strong guy and he's really good in front of the net. That's where we use him in Grand Rapids on the power play. He's got a lot of dirty goals down there around the net. Very good player overall."
Nyquist, who is a pretty good player himself, said his line might not play a lot, but they are just looking to keep things simple.
"We just want to create some energy for the team when we get out there, try to spend as much time as possible in the offensive zone, try to wear them down down there," Nyquist said.
The other thing Nyquist was looking to do is be part of a victory, which finally happened Saturday. When he made his NHL debut Nov. 1, the Wings were in the midst of an odd six-game losing streak. Then they lost again Friday in Chicago, 3-2.
"I'm super happy about that," Nyquist said. "I think all the guys did a great job and Howie came up big for us. It's a great feeling to get that one."
Holmstrom, who is on injured reserve, did some off-ice work and received treatment Saturday morning.
"It's going better," Holmstrom said. "Still sore but way better than yesterday and a couple days ago."
Holmstrom said he hoped to skate on Monday with the hope of returning to action Tuesday in Dallas.
"I gotta skate first but most, the range and everything, I feel pretty strong," Holmstrom said. "It's just some stretching areas, it's still sore and pain. I will be real disappointed if I couldn't skate Monday and play Tuesday. I would like to get back at it now."
Conner at morning skate
Forward Chris Conner, out with a fracture in his right hand, skated with Nyquist, Andersson and Jakub Kindl Saturday morning.
Conner got the cast off his hand this past Monday but has not been cleared for action yet.
"It feels good," Conner said. "I'm sure it won't be too long."
With Saturday's skate an optional one because of the Friday night game in Chicago, Wings goalie coach Jim Bedard had to don the pads and stand in net against the four players.
"It was good," Conner said with a grin. "He surprised me, a lot better than I thought. He's definitely not showing his age so it's good."