In this edition of Toronto Maple Leafs News & Rumors, we’ll take a longer than usual look at the Detroit Red Wings, who will be the Maple Leafs’ opponents tonight. The Red Wings won’t make the playoffs this season, but they are a young and exciting team.
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As well, we’ll look at the new line combinations that Maple Leafs’ head coach Sheldon Keefe will employ once again during this game. These line combinations not only change the players on each line, but they also promise to alter the team’s philosophy about the purpose of each line. That too will be fun to watch during the game tonight.
Item One: Tonight’s Game Is One the Maple Leafs Should Win – at Least on Paper
The Toronto Maple Leafs enter the game this evening against the Red Wings with a huge advantage. The Red Wings will be playing the second game of a back-to-back that has included travel. They played the Pittsburgh Penguins on the road last night and won in a shootout by a score of 3-2.
It was a solid win for the Red Wings, the team’s first win in four games. It was also the Penguins’ second loss in a row after that team had been on a massive roll and had won eight games in a row. Former Maple Leafs’ goalie – he played a single game for the team during the 2017-18 season – Calvin Pickard picked up the win. It was only his second game played in the NHL this season.
The Red Wings #1 goalie, Alex Nedeljkovic, who has a record of 12-11-5 in 28 starts this season with a .912 save percentage and a goals-against-average of 2,89, is expected to get the start tonight in the Red Wings’ net.
Item Two: The Red Wings Have a Young, Fast, Rebuilding Team
The rebuilding Red Wings are a young, fast team. It has two lines that can score, but it’s a team that has a difficult time keeping the puck out of its own net. The Red Wings have given up an average of 3.87 goals per game on the season.
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For Maple Leafs’ fans who haven’t watched this Red Wings’ team, Detroit has two of the top rookie scorers in the league. Lucas Raymond, a 19-year-old Swedish winger who was selected in the first round (fourth overall) of the 2020 NHL Entry Draft, leads all rookies with 34 points in 44 games this season. Moritz Seider, a 20-year-old, right-shot defenseman from Germany who the Red Wings selected in the first round (sixth overall) of the 2019 NHL Entry Draft is tied for third in rookie scoring with the Florida Panthers Anton Lundell with 27 points. Both Raymond and Seider are great young players and fun to watch.
Item Three: Tyler Bertuzzi Plays His First Game Against the Maple Leafs
Even the Red Wings’ veterans are young. Tyler Bertuzzi, who’s only 26-years-old, is more than a point-a-game player this season. He’s tied for the team lead in scoring with Dylan Larkin at 38 points in 36 games. Larkin is a seven-season veteran with his home state Red Wings but he, too, is only 25-years-old. Larkin’s 38 points (including 20 goals) have come in 39 games played this season.
It will be Bertuzzi’s first time facing the Maple Leafs this season. Bertuzzi didn’t make the trip to Toronto in the team’s only other meeting this season due to his vaccine status. The Maple Leafs won that game 5-4. Young Czech defenseman Filip Hronek (a 24-year-old second-round draft choice from 2016) scored with 29 seconds left with the Red Wings’ goalie pulled to make that game close at the end.
Item Four: The Maple Leafs Line Combinations Will Continue Their New Look
The Maple Leafs’ lines will remain the same as they were against the Anaheim Ducks Wednesday night. The defensive pairings will also be the same, which might be a bit of a surprise given the concern over Timothy Liljegren’s head injury.
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However, Liljegren participated in the full practice yesterday and is expected to start tonight. Defenseman Jake Muzzin didn’t make the trip to Detroit; however, he could be ready to go for Monday’s home game against the New Jersey Devils.
The Maple Leafs’ line combinations and defensive pairings will look like this:
Maple Leafs’ Forward Line Combinations
|Line||Left Wing||Center||Right Wing|
|First Line||Michael Bunting||Auston Matthews||Ondrej Kase|
|Second Line||Ilya Mikheyev||John Tavares||Mitch Marner|
|Third Line||Alex Kerfoot||David Kampf||William Nylander|
|Fourth Line||Pierre Engvall||Jason Spezza||Wayne Simmonds|
Maple Leafs’ Defensive Pairings
|First Pairing||Morgan Rielly||T.J. Brodie|
|Second Pairing||Rasmus Sandin||Justin Holl|
|Third Pairing||Travis Dermott||Timothy Liljegren|
Starting Goalie will be Petr Mrazek with Jack Campbell as the backup.
What’s Next for the Maple Leafs?
With the Maple Leafs coming off two days of rest and the Red Wings being pumped after their win in Pittsburgh, we expect Detroit to come out flying to start the game. The Maple Leafs and Petr Mrazek, who’s starting just his third game in six weeks, will have to weather the storm to give time for the team to get its legs going.
The Maple Leafs need this win to keep pace with the Panthers, who beat the Vegas Golden Knights 4-1 on Thursday night and the Tampa Bay Lightning who won 3-2 over the Devils on the same night. Florida remains 10 points up on the Maple Leafs, while Tampa sits eight points ahead. Toronto has five games in hand over both teams.
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Meanwhile, the Boston Bruins have closed to within two points of the Maple Leafs following their 2-1 in Arizona against the Coyotes last night. The Maple Leafs hold two games in hand over the Bruins. The race is tightening up a bit.
[Note: I want to thank long-time Maple Leafs’ fan Stan Smith for collaborating with me on this post. Stan’s Facebook profile can be found here.]