Updated 2x at 2:33 PM: The Red Wings and Maple Leafs engaged in their morning skates ahead of tonight’s game (7:00 PM EDT on FSD/CBC/97.1 FM), and at present, the post-skate media available comes from Leaf sources.
According to TSN’s Kristen Shilton, the Leafs do not plan on looking past the Wings…
Regardless of where they are in the standings, Detroit frequently plays the Leafs tough – The last time the two teams met on Feb. 18, the Leafs let their lead evaporate midway through the third period and it took a goal from Auston Matthews with 31 seconds left in regulation to put Toronto over the top.
“Absolutely, every time we play them it seems to be a close game and a good battle. We expect nothing less from them tonight,” said Matthews. “[But] knowing [Nashville] is one of the best teams in the league and at the top of their conference, to play as well as we did, it definitely gives us some confidence moving forward and into another game tonight.”
The problem hampering the Red Wings of late has been an inability to find the back of the net – Detroit has scored just nine goals in their last five games, and they’re coming off a 1-0 shutout loss to the Washington Capitals on Thursday. But as Mike Babcock pointed out, the Red Wings’ defensive game has been solid and they’ll need all hands on deck to contain the seemingly unstoppable scoring prowess of James van Riemsdyk and the Leafs’ red-hot power play.
And the Toronto Sun’s Lance Hornby did speak to the Red Wings about tonight’s game:
The Leafs will look to extend their club record home winning streak to 13 straight on Saturday and tie the franchise mark of 45 wins in a single season. After splitting two games on the road against extremely tough opposition, a pair of division leaders in Tampa Bay and Nashville, the Detroit match is the first of three versus non-playoff teams.
“Our team has competed hard, played with structure,” Wings’ coach Jeff Blashill said. “But that’s not OK. We don’t want to be a team that plays pretty good and loses, we want to be a team that plays great and wins. Every time you put on that Red Wings jersey that has to be your mindset.”
It’s unlikely the Leafs make any lineup changes, still missing winger Leo Komarov with a leg injury. Goalie Frederik Andersen will be looking for his 35th win to tie his career best in Anaheim and threaten the Leaf record of 37, jointly held by Ed Belfour and Andrew Raycroft.
Andersen was also impressed by the turn into positive goal territory.
“That’s the name of the game. Things tend to trend that way when your successful and have a surplus. Score more goals than you allow and you’ll walk home happy.”
But Toronto is still trying to make up ground on the Boston Bruins, who won Friday night in Dallas to keep a seven-point lead for home ice advantage in a projected fist-round playoff series with a game in hand.
NHL.com’s Dave McCarthy also penned a game preview…
The Game: The Toronto Maple Leafs will try for their 13th straight home win when they play the Detroit Red Wings at Air Canada Centre on Saturday.
The Maple Leafs have won five of their past six games after a four-game losing streak (0-2-2). They have scored at least three goals in each of their past seven games. A victory will move them within five points of the second-place Boston Bruins in the Atlantic Division.
The Red Wings, who were eliminated from Stanley Cup Playoffs contention with a 1-0 loss to the Washington Capitals on Thursday, are 1-10-1 in their past 12 games.
Players to watch: Red Wings forward Dylan Larkin has four points (two goals, two assists) in his past four games. He leads the Red Wings in scoring with 53 points (11 goals, 42 assists) in 74 games.
Maple Leafs forward James van Riemsdyk has 10 points (eight goals, two assists) in his past five games. He leads the Maple Leafs with an NHL career-high 34 goals.
They said it: “Our team has competed hard, we’ve worked extremely hard, we’ve played with good structure but we haven’t won enough games and that’s not OK. We don’t want to be a team that plays pretty good and loses, we want to be a team that plays great and wins. Don’t rely on fate; demand that you get the win.” — Red Wings coach Jeff Blashill
“All these games matter, so it doesn’t really matter who or when, you’ve got to be ready to play. It doesn’t matter if it’s an emotional game or not, you’ve got to play hockey.” — Maple Leafs forward Auston Matthews
Wings Luke Glendening on all the trade talk to Leafs at the deadline to rejoin Babcock: “You hear what you hear, but we were trying to win games and i wanted to keep my focus. Mike gave me my chance in the NHL, taught me about being a competitor. I can’t say enough good things.”
— Lance Hornby (@sunhornby) March 24, 2018
— Detroit Red Wings (@DetroitRedWings) March 24, 2018
Update: Among DetroitRedWings.com’s Dana Wakiji’s notes:
Toronto Maple Leafs coach Mike Babcock summed up the Red Wings’ situation succinctly Saturday morning.
“They’re not scoring or haven’t scored,” Babcock said. “They’re playing real well defensively and competing hard. I think they’ve done a good job. To me, you got to generate some offense. They haven’t scored so that makes it harder for them.”
The Wings have 189 goals compared to the Leafs’ 251. In the last game, the Washington Capitals had one real Grade A chance when they had a 2-on-0 with Brett Connolly and Jakub Vrana and they scored on it, which was enough to win the game, 1-0.
“The games have been there for us to win,” defenseman Jonathan Ericsson said. “A lot of times, we don’t seem to get those easy goals as we’re giving up for the other team. That’s the biggest difference, I think. The compete level’s been there all the time. We’re just gonna continue working hard and try and win as many games as possible.”
The problem is even more drastic in those one-goal games like Thursday’s. Overall, the Wings are 10-12-11 compared to the Leafs’ 22-4-7 record in one-goal games.
“I think if you’ve been around our team like some people in this gathering have been they’d tell you we’ve had lots of games like the other night, where you could argue maybe we deserved a little better fate,” Wings coach Jeff Blashill said.
“We’ve been extremely close. We got to find a way to turn those close losses into close wins over the course of the next however many games, that’s the biggest thing. I thought the other night, structurally, defensively we were great. We got to continue to find ways to score. Certainly, one of those areas is the power play. Our power play wasn’t good enough the other night.”
Update #2: The Free Press’s Helene St. James posted a clip of James van Riemsdyk, Mike Babcock, Dylan Larkin, Anthony Mantha and Jeff Blashill speaking with the media on Saturday: