Babcock: This is best Detroit team since ’09 Cup finalists

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The Detroit Red Wings entered this season amid low expectations after just barely making the playoffs in 2013-14. That campaign was another step in their efforts to rebuild on the fly and it corresponded with the team enduring a franchise-record 421 man games lost due to injuries, but they weren’t always given the benefit of the doubt as their potential weaknesses were often the subject of discussion after their relatively quiet summer.

Everything seems to have come together so far this season though as the old guard, led by Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk, have been complimented nicely by their rapidly developing core of Tomas Tatar, Gustav Nyquist, and Riley Sheahan. Through 28 games, Detroit is tied in points for first in the Atlantic Division with a 17-6-5 record.

“They (the team’s veterans) have been here through the good times and the slower times and now they see our team on the climb again,” Red Wings coach Mike Babcock said. “This is the best team we’ve had here since ’09, not necessarily point-wise, but direction-wise. We have more players that are hungry and going in the right direction than we have in a long time.”

Although there’s still a lot of hockey left to play this season, if Detroit has already endured the shakiest stages of its rebuild, then that would be yet enough testament to the consistency of this franchise. Detroit has made the playoffs 23 consecutive campaigns and is well on its way to making it 24. Meanwhile, some of the teams that have gone through more traditional rebuilding processes since the cap era started can only look on with jealousy as Detroit seemingly manages to have its cake and eat it too.

Part of Detroit’s success comes from disciplined management decisions, but it’s also cultural. Detroit knows what it takes to win and teams that lose that during a full-fledged rebuild can have trouble getting it back.

“Confidence is a big thing; if you get to feeling good about yourself and get used to winning and expect to win that becomes the standard for you,” Babcock said. “That’s what we’re trying to do. That’s what good teams do. They expect to win. They prepare to win. They play hard enough to win and in the end they do win.”

Detroit and Toronto will play in Wednesday Night’s rivalry game on NBCSN (8:00 p.m. ET).