Oh boy, that game was a doozy. Talk about a tour from terrible town to cautiously optimistic city to desperation central. Here’s how the Wings’ game against the Leafs went down.
The rivalry matchup started out with the ice tilting in favor of the Red Wings. Through the first four minutes of play the Red Wings crashed the Leafs in their zone, but play started to shift when Toronto began employing the stretch pass the move through the neutral zone and beat Detroit’s aggressive forecheck.
The use of the stretch pass allowed Toronto’s Nazem Kadri beat the Wings on a bad line change and belted the puck past Howard on the blocker side at 14:40 to put the Leafs . Less than a minute later Zach Hyman scored one of his own and bam, the Red Wings found themselves in a two goal hole in less than a two minute span.
At 7:50, Zetterberg received a pass from Nick Jensen, burned a Leafs defender, and wrapped around the net to bring the score back within one. It was a nice play by Z, but a lot of credit for that goal goes to the totally sloppy defensive work of the Leafs’ rearguards and center. It makes me happy because Babcock’s head was liable to literally turn into a volcano at over that defensive effort.
A great intercept by Nyquist in the neutral gave Zetterberg and Mantha the opportunity to knot the game up a two apiece, but the Leafs got enough traffic in front of the net to gunk things up and snag away a great opportunity.
Auston Matthews then did Auston Matthews things and beat both Abdelkader and Daley and put a bad angle shot against Howard. 3-1 Leafs. Howard got yanked and replaced by Mrazek, and excuse me for a moment....
(PARDON THE INTERRUPTION: The author is screaming into his hands in the back room.)
Ahem, then the whole Nielsen line got mesmerized by the puck, allowing Connor Brown to score another goal off an innocent-looking wrister to give the Leafs a 4-1 lead on only five shots. The Leafs gifted the Wings a Too-Many-Men penalty, but the Wings couldn’t do anything with it.
Sweet mother of mercy, the Wings couldn’t get out of that period fast enough. What should have been a 1-1 game after the first, but it is what it is, I guess. The Red Wings were actually not too bad in the neutral zone and in the Leafs end, but once they got hemmed in their own zone it was like everyone’s skates were made of sandbags or something; very passive. A passive can’t cut it against a young, fast team like the Leafs.
Score: 4-1 Maple Leafs
Shots: 10-5 Red Wings
The second period started the opposite of the way the first did. The Wings spent a lot of time in their own zone, and Mrazek made many quality saves. Leafs continued to dominate the period, but around the five minute mark of the period there was a great opportunity for Mantha to bury an open puck and he just fanned on it.
Ericsson decided to hook Hyman and Hyman was kind enough to lock his arm around Ericsson’s stick, so they game went to 4-on-4. The offsetting penalties was a whole lot of nothing until Tatar broke free from the neutral zone with the puck, fired, gathered his own rebound and fired again to bring the game within 2. 4-2 Leafs.
The goal felt like a breath of fresh air and it seemed like Jonathan Ericsson (yes, him) scored off a broken play, but the goal was immediately called off because the heel of Abdelkader moved through the crease ever so slightly without impeding McElhinney from making a save. Jeff Blashill was at least as perplexed as me, so he challenged the ruling and the call was reversed, giving the Wings a new lease on life in this game. 4-3 Leafs
The Leafs pushed back, but Mrazek stood tall over the new Leafs’ barrage, often making some nice lateral moves to combat the Leafs’ speed and agility. However, once Kronwall was sent to the box for Slashing then it took Morgan Reilly less than 30 seconds on the power play to unleash a shot from the top of the right circle past Mrazek. 5-3 Leafs.
Around 4 minutes remaining in the period the Wings found themselves on the powerplay, which was totally unremarkable because it involved probably the worst Kronwall giveaway I’ve ever seen and was negated by an Abdelkader slashing penalty one minute in. Mrazek subsequently stood on his head when the Leafs had their minute of man-advantage as Auston Matthews danced around the entire Wings lineup.
The period concluded without further consequence and ended on a funny note when Frk checked a Maple Leaf and subsequently was getting some grief. Sheahan just skated up to the the two Leafs and grabbed both of them by the collar and dragged them away from Frk, just like a big brother.
Score: 5-3 Maple Leafs
Shots: 18-17 Red Wings
The Leafs came out with the same dominant play they closed the second with, but the Wings were no worse for wear and the play eventually evolved into a more back-and-forth contest without any goal scoring. The Red Wings certainly looked hungrier and Leafs appeared to be okay to win by two.
The Wings got great scoring opportunities from the players you would expect, as those opportunities were often spoiled by the players you would expect. Nyquist, Daley, Tatar, Larkin, Mantha, and Zetterberg all had really great looks, but the defense/point men repeatedly had issues holding the puck in the zone and not tossing it away.
The Wings pulled Mrazek for the extra attacker, but that last all of ten seconds before Nylander salted it away. Good try Wings, but there’s no saving yourself from a first period as bad as the one they had tonight.
Score: 6-3 Maple Leafs
Shots: 33-26 Red Wings
The best goalie in the world isn’t going to save the Wings from a defensive structure as flat-footed as what we saw in the first period against the Leafs, and if a goalie happens to have an off-night like Howard then this team will need to find some desperation to keep the puck as far away from their end as possible. The last two periods weren’t terrible hockey, but they were definitely flawed. Oh well. Short memories help fans get through the lean times. The Caps come to the Dough Joe on Friday in another tough test for the Red Wings.