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Game Day Updates: Red Wings vs. Maple Leafs

lion in black background in grayscale photography
Headshot of Alex Lyon by MARIOLA GROBELSKA on Unsplash

The Alex Lyon era is upon us.

Following yesterday’s game, the Red Wings wasted no time announcing that Lyon would finally make his Red Wings debut and start against the Maple Leafs.

There’s been a lot of chatter from fans about Lyon. Mainly because goaltending between Ville Husso and James Reimer has been inconsistent at best, but also because Lyon has been the star of just about any video the social team has produced all season. The Lyon #brand is strong.

But why did the Red Wings sign Lyon and not even give him a look until Game #17?

It may be as simple as, the Red Wings think that he would not clear waivers, and are just biding their time until teams like Edmonton, Minnesota, Tampa Bay and New Jersey — preseason contenders currently letting in buckets of goals — solve their goaltending woes. I have a different theory, too.

There has been occasional grumbling over the years about expanding roster sizes to be able to more easily keep a third goaltender. It hasn’t gone anywhere, but it’s reportedly been discussed at recent GM meetings, likely in part due to the increase in appearances of EBUGs in recent years. But a third goalie has another utility, too: being the practice guy.

Here’s a bit on how a typical NHL practice works: goalies will go out with the goalie coach 20-30 minutes before practice, maybe with the skills coach, maybe some rehabbing injured players, getting some light but technical work. Then the rest of the team comes out and they become… shooter tutors, essentially. There are not many (maybe zero) drills during a full-team NHL practice for the goaltender’s benefit. It’s breakouts, special teams, odd-man rushes, etc. Length can vary, maybe 30-40 minutes in a heavy game week, sometimes upwards of 90 minutes if the team isn’t playing well or has a few days between games. On top of that, if skaters want to do any individual skill work, they stay out after practice officially ends.

This means that goalies face a lot of rubber, and sometimes, they’re on the ice for two hours. Games are typically longer than two hours, of course, but a goalie might see 30-40 shots tops… and they’re seeing hundreds of shots in practice. Players can ease up slightly as to not accidentally ring one off their own goalie’s mask, but they’re shooting to score. It’s significant wear and tear.

I won’t pretend to be a goalie expert, and even less so a kinesiology expert, but I’ve read and spoken to people smarter than me about how modern goaltending leads to a lot of repetitive motion injuries in the hips and knees, especially. The human body is not designed to do what elite goaltenders need it to do.

The starter of the next game typically comes off first, but backups need to stay ready, too, and I witnessed genuine arguments arise when players were staying out late to get some extra work shooting on a goalie, and the backup wanted to get off the ice. Teams are allowed to call on practice goalies for this purpose, like an EBUG, but those are Regular Joes who work 9-5s, so it’s not always feasible.

To get back to this specific team, last season there was a statistical dropoff in Husso’s play late in the season, and reports that he was battling injury. Every goalie is different, and I don’t know any of this goaltending trio. If Husso feels he can stay game-ready with a lighter practice workload, maybe that was the motivation for the Red Wings to bring in Lyon, knowing that Reimer, as one of the older goalies in the league, was not ideal to stay out late to help Daniel Sprong work on picking corners with his one-timer.

Now that I’ve said all that, knowing the Red Wings had this European trip right up against the Husso family’s due date, maybe this has been the plan all along and Lyon is destined for waivers once they land back in Detroit. But if he does stick around for most of the season in this capacity, I think this could be the reason why.

All players want to be playing games, of course, but if this was the job description pitched to Lyon, it’s probably still appealing knowing he makes guaranteed NHL bucks on a multi-year deal, playing behind two goalies who are short-term solutions, so his chances of eventually getting a run are still pretty decent. My goalie friends will attest that I hate giving them credit, but I am in favor of teams carrying three goalies if it helps to reduce the seemingly mounting goaltender injuries around the league.

Back to Sweden: The Swe-quel, starring Alex Lyon. The Red Wings are right back at it in Stockholm against the Toronto Maple Leafs today following a wild comeback to take a point against the Ottawa Senators on Thursday. Detroit is looking to break an 85-year drought between wins in Europe*.

*not counting an exhibition win over Färjestad on Sept. 30, 2009.

How to Watch
Time: 2:00 p.m. EST at Avicii Arena
TV/Radio: Bally Sports Detroit and NHL Network / 97.1 The Ticket

Red Wings Lines (projected)
Outside of Lyon, it’s assumed that Justin Holl will come in to take on his former team, which was solidified by some individual defensive performances yesterday. Austin Czarnik is said to be potentially available, as well.

Alex DeBrincat – Dylan Larkin – Lucas Raymond
Andrew Copp – J.T. Compher – David Perron
Robby Fabbri – Joe Veleno – Daniel Sprong
Klim Kostin – Michael Rasmussen – Christian Fischer

Jake Walman – Moritz Seider
Olli Maatta – Shayne Gostisbehere
Ben Chiarot – Justin Holl

Alex Lyon
James Reimer

Maple Leafs Lines (projected)
What’s new in Leaf Land? Well, the usual. Every free agent brought in this summer has been under fire, they aren’t tough enough to beat the Bruins, the goalies can’t stop a thing and it’s been a complete disaster… for a team that’s 8-5-2 and having a start that plenty of teams would be satisfied with (a point shy of Detroit with a game in hand).

Matthew Knies – Auston Matthews – Mitch Marner
Tyler Bertuzzi – John Tavares – William Nylander
Nick Robertson – Max Domi – Calle Jarnkrok
Bobby McMann – David Kampf – Noah Gregor

Morgan Rielly – T.J. Brodie
Mark Giordano – Jake McCabe
William Lagesson – Simon Benoit

Ilya Samsonov
Joseph Woll

Keys to the Game
1. Godspeed, Alex. What I haven’t acknowledged about the third goalie situation is the fact that Lyon is a goalie who hasn’t seen real game action since the preseason and is now tasked with a top-10 offense that features some of the most dangerous players in the world, in Matthews, Nylander, Marner and supporting cast. Doesn’t seem fair, but that’s showbiz, baby — given the team’s goaltending so far, Lyon has a great chance to stake his claim for more playing time in the immediate future. He’s 30 years old with eight years of pro experience and coming off a great performance with the Florida Panthers last season, so you’d hope that mentally he’s in a good spot to handle the pressure.

2. Sixty minutes, please. Detroit dominating every minute of a game against Toronto feels unlikely. But in exchange for the increased offense this team has provided, the trade-off has seems to be devastating short stints like the second half of the first period in yesterday’s game against Ottawa, which turned a solid start into a 3-0 deficit in a snap. Plugging the leaks quicker when they pop up is critical, and taking three-of-four points after how yesterday’s game started would be a fantastic result.

3. A salute to Leafs Nation. As a metro Detroiter who grew up with CBC, I’ve always been pretty in tune with the Maple Leafs, and sympathetic to the the sacrificial lamb du jour. Justin Holl should draw back in today, and he’s been steady with the Red Wings after becoming a whipping boy in Toronto, a tradition for one defenseman each season for the better part of the last three decades (it’s Klingberg now). Seeing him put forth a solid defensive effort — or even a couple points — against a fanbase that became convinced he wasn’t even ECHL caliber would be immensely enjoyable.

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