Maple Leafs Seeking Continued Perfection vs. Red Wings Tonight

Tonight the Toronto Maple Leafs meet the Detroit Red Wings to end the team’s four-game road trip. Thus far, the trip has been successful with wins in New Jersey, Minnesota, and most recently Pittsburgh. The team, even in the absence of its best three defensemen – Jake Muzzin, TJ Brodie, and Morgan Rielly – has played well. 

As I noted in yesterday’s post, it isn’t as if the team isn’t making mistakes on the ice; however, it seems as if they are covering for each other really well. The Penguins had to get through several layers of defense on their way to Erik Kallgren’s net. It was tough for Pittsburgh to generate much offense at all.

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In this edition of Maple Leafs News & Rumors, I’ll take a look at the team as it prepares for the Red Wings. I’ll especially look at some of the reasons why the team has done well recently.

Item One: One Team’s Winning Steak Will End Tonight

Should the Maple Leafs win tonight, they will have completed a perfect four-game road trip. However, the Red Wings are on a roll themselves. They’ve won five games in a row and are looking for number six. The Maple Leafs haven’t lost a game in regulation in their past eight games. Their 6-0-2 record shows how well they’ve been playing. 

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During the offseason, the Red Wings did well picking up Ville Husso from the St. Louis Blues. Husso has been outstanding for the Red Wings. He’ll start against the Maple Leafs tonight. 

Husso is also on a personal winning streak. He’s won his last four games in a row and has put together a 9-2-3 record on the season. Interestingly, he has the same save percentage this season at .919 that he did last season with the Blues. However, his goals-against-average of 2.39 is better this season. 

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Last February, Husso beat the Maple Leafs by stopping 34 of 37 shots in a 6-3 win over the Maple Leafs. William Nylander scored twice in that game. Thus far on the season, Nylander has been arguably playing the best hockey of his career. Can he continue?

Item Two: Matt Murray Will Start for the Maple Leafs

After getting some time off against the Penguins, Matt Murray will get tonight’s start against Detroit. Ironically, it is a year to the day since Murray was placed on waivers and cleared by the Ottawa Senators. What a turnaround for the Thunder Bay native. He’s been confident and solid in the net.

Matt Murray Toronto Maple Leafs
Matt Murray, Toronto Maple Leafs (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Murray had an iffy game against the Montreal Canadiens in the team’s home opener in Montreal; however, since he returned from injury, he’s been fantastic in the net for his new team. He’s been undefeated in regulation since returning from injury; and, in the overtime game he lost to the New Jersey Devils, he stole the single point with his play.

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Murray has strung together a record of 4-0-1 in his last five games, with a goals-against-average of 2.20. After this run of solid play, the only lasting concern would seem to be an injury. His body of work this season is enough for fans to believe he’s found his mojo once again. Together, with goalie partner Ilya Samsonov who will soon return from a knee injury, this is a solid tandem for the team. 

Item Three: Marner Going for 17-Game Straight Point-Scoring Streak

Tonight, another streak that’s on the line is Mitch Marner’s attempt to come within one game of the Maple Leafs’ franchise record of 18 games in a row with a point. He’ll be trying to hit 17 games in a row with a point.

Mitch Marner Toronto Maple Leafs
Mitch Marner, Toronto Maple Leafs (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

During his past 16 games, Marner’s scored five goals and added 17 assists (for 22 points). The current record of 18 games in a row registering a point is shared by Darryl Sittler (during the 1977-78 season) and Ed Olczyk (set during the 1989-90 season).

Item Four: Maple Leafs Get Edge By Starting Well 

One month ago, I wrote a post (see link below) that I believed the Maple Leafs’ slow starts created an un-winnable pattern. It seems pretty obvious in a game with so few goals scored – this season’s average goals-per-game is 6.32 – that the team who scores first often wins the game. 

Related: Maple Leafs Slow Starts Create Un-Winnable Pattern

Recently, the Maple Leafs have gotten off the mark quickly in games. In the team’s last five wins, they’ve outscored their opposition by a 10-1 margin during the first period. Against the Penguins, they scored two goals in the first period.

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Maple Leafs’ head coach Sheldon Keefe agrees. He noted that he had talked with his team “about how the recipe for us here of late has been to get off to good starts, control the game.” 

Auston Matthews Rasmus Sandin Toronto Maple Leafs
Auston Matthews and Rasmus Sandin, Toronto Maple Leafs (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Keefe added “That’s sort of the way the game went the last time we were in here. It’s the way it’s been on this trip. That set us up for success, for sure.”

What’s Next for the Maple Leafs?

Victor Mete played a solid game against the Penguins and will be back in the lineup tonight. He’s been using his speed and positioning to stick with and disrupt offensive rushes. Over the weekend, he was moved back to the Marlies and then was returned to the big club. It looks as if he’ll once again be paired with Mac Hollowell on the team’s blue line tonight. 

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Hollowell has survived his first few games with the team. He seldom gets mentioned, which is good for a young defenseman.

Who would have thought that with the season about one-fourth the way through the starting defensive pairings would be Mark Giordano and Justin Holl on the first pairing; Rasmus Sandin and Timothy Liljegren on the second pairing; and Mete and Hollowell on the third pairing?

The team is playing well.

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