Mike Babcock bowed his head and rubbed his brow after seeing a fourth puck go in his team’s net.
There wasn’t much else the Toronto Maple Leafs coach could do while watching his former team rout the franchise he’s trying to revive.
Justin Abdelkader, whose paternal grandfather is from Jordan, had a hat trick and Dylan Larkin scored in his NHL debut, helping the Detroit Red Wings beat the Babcock-led Maple Leafs 4-0 on Friday night.
“A little extra special for us to get a win against Babs,” Abdelkader acknowledged.
Jimmy Howard stopped 22 shots for his 21st career shutout for the Red Wings, who won their season-opening game and dropped Toronto to 0-2.
“I don’t think I was surprised at how good Detroit played or anything like that,” Babcock said quietly after the game. “I just think we have to be better.”
The Maple Leafs lured Babcock away from Detroit with an eight-year, $50 million (Dh183.6m) contract that more than doubled what any other coach is making is making per season in the league.
Abdelkader scored on Detroit’s first shot, making the most of a power play 1:15 into the game. He had another goal midway through the first period off a centering pass from Larkin.
Just 20 seconds into the second period, Larkin lifted a shot from the bottom of the left circle over goalie Jonathan Bernier and pumped his right fist while celebrating the moment in front of 20,000-plus fans at Joe Louis Arena.
“It’s an incredible feeling just to see it go in and see the Joe go pretty crazy,” said Larkin, who is from suburban Detroit and played one season at Michigan.
Abdelkader became the first Red Wings player to score three times in an opener since Brendan Shanahan did it in 2001, according to STATS, and joined Adam Brown (1945) as the only players who had a hat trick in a season- and home-opening game.
Larkin, a 2014 first-round pick, drew two defenders as he skated down the middle of the ice and Abdelkader took advantage of the space to score his third goal 3:54 into the second period.
NHL rookies Connor McDavid of the Edmonton Oilers and Jack Eichel of the Buffalo Sabres have generated a lot of buzz, but Babcock said more people should be talking about the 19-year-old Larkin.
“He obviously gives them speed and he competes on every shift,” Babcock said.
Bernier was pulled after allowing Larkin’s goal. He gave up three goals on nine shots. James Reimer stopped 12 of the 13 shots he faced in relief.
During a break in the game when Detroit were up 2-0, Babcock and his accomplishments with the Red Wings – a Stanley Cup and 525 wins – were shown on the videoboards and the crowd gave him a standing ovation. Babcock acknowledged the cheers by raising his hands a few times.
“It was nice of them to do,” Babcock said. “I wish they wouldn’t have to do that. I don’t coach their team anymore. I’m glad this is all over with.”
The Maple Leafs are paying Babcock an unprecedented amount of money to turn around their once-proud franchise. Toronto, who haven’t hoisted the Stanley Cup since 1967, were among the NHL’s worst teams last season and have made the play-offs only once since 2004.
“I think we’re all sick of losing,” centre Shawn Matthias said.
The Red Wings are the only team that have earned a spot in the play-offs every year since the league emerged from a lockout in 2005 – a run that coincided with Babcock’s decade in Detroit – and are aiming to be in a 25th straight post-season.
With a mix of veterans and young skaters, such as Larkin, along with a pair of goalies, Detroit seem set up to be relatively successful again this season under first-year coach and Michigan native Jeff Blashill, who was promoted from the American Hockey League’s Grand Rapids Griffins.
“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.
Elsewhere in the NHL
Chicago Blackhawks 3, New York Islanders 2, OT
Patrick Kane scored on a power play at 1:49 of overtime to lift Chicago past New York, spoiling the Islanders’ Brooklyn debut.
With the Blackhawks awarded an extra skater after a slashing penalty on the Islanders’ Nick Leddy during the 3-on-3 overtime, Kane sent the puck toward the middle of the net from the right side.
Kane is the subject of a sexual assault investigation in western New York. He hasn’t been charged, and has said he expects to be exonerated.
Kane also scored in the second period, Artem Anisimov added a goal and Corey Crawford stopped 34 shots. John Tavares and Marek Zidlicky scored for the Islanders.
New York Rangers 4, Columbus Blue Jackets 2
Mats Zuccarello had two goals and the New York Rangers scored three times in a 1:17 span in the third period to rally past Columbus.
Brandon Saad, the Blue Jackets’ blockbuster acquisition in the off-season, scored on a power play at 16:10 of the third to give the Blue Jackets a 2-1 lead in their season opener.
But after a Columbus turnover, Oscar Lindberg netted a low shot for his second goal in two games to tie it at 2. Just 17 seconds later, Kevin Hayes made it 3-2 with a shot from the right corner along the end line that found its way past Sergei Bobrovsky. Zuccarello capped the scoring a minute later.
Henrik Lundqvist finished with 21 saves for New York.
Cam Atkinson also scored for the Blue Jackets.
Winnipeg Jets 3, New Jersey Devils 1
Andrew Ladd and Blake Wheeler each had a goal and an assist in a big second period and Winnipeg beat New Jersey to spoil John Hynes’s NHL coaching debut.
Mathieu Perreault had two assists in the three-goal second period and Michael Hutchinson made 20 saves to help the Jets win for the second time in two nights. They opened with a 6-2 victory at the Boston Bruins.
Mark Scheifele ignited the Winnipeg outburst with his second goal of the season.
Jiri Tlusty scored for New Jersey in his debut. It was actually an own goal that Winnipeg defenceman Jacob Trouba fired into his own net trying to clear a puck in front.
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