Red Wings-Maple Leafs set-up: winless Wings hope to slow down streaking Leafs

The Detroit Red Wings will attempt to earn their first win of the season as the 0-1-and-2 Wings host the 3-and-1 Toronto Maple Leafs on Thursday night (7:30 PM EDT on FSD/TSN4/97.1 FM).

The Wings will play minus Dennis Cholowski, who’s got an upper-body injury, but Niklas Kronwall will be making his return to the lineup as the Wings hope to hold the fort down versus the offensively-prolific Leafs.

Our friends from Toronto are coming off a 7-4 victory over the Dallas Stars on Tuesday. The Leafs have scored 20 goals over the course of their first 4 games, yielding all sorts of all-time-great-comparison gobbledygook for Auston Matthews, gushy praise for John Tavares, Nazem Kadri and everyone else wearing blue and white, and the Toronto Sun’s Lance Hornby suggests that the Maple Leaf Hype Train is backed up by some really impressive stats:

Some scoring marks they’ve have attained so far, courtesy of NHL Stats:

* Matthews and Tavares are just the third set of teammates in league history, and the first in 101 years, to each pot six-plus goals in their team’s first four games of a season. The other productive pairings came in 1917-18; Harry Cameron and Reg Noble with the Toronto Arenas: Newsy Lalonde and Joe Malone with the Canadiens.

* Matthews is the third player in franchise history to compile multiple point games in each of the first four games of a season. The others were Cameron and Sweeney Schriner in 1944-45.

* Matthews is the sixth in franchise history to score at least once in each of the first four games of a season, joining Corb Denneny (1921-22) and Babe Dye (1925-26) of the Toronto St. Patricks, as well as Schriner, John Anderson (1981-82) and Clarke MacArthur (2010-11). No Leaf scored in more than three consecutive games last season.

* Rielly’s four assists on Tuesday were a career high and his eight through the first four games is the most by a defenceman in franchise history. The previous high was seven by Borje Salming in 1977-78 and Kent Douglas in 1964-65.

* The Leafs have seven goals in back-to-back games, attaining seven or more in consecutive games for the third time in the past 20 years (Dec. 19-21, 1998 and Oct. 4-7, 2017).

TSN’s Mark Masters reports that the Leafs only skated for about 30 minutes in Dallas on Wednesday…

The Leafs lines remained unchanged at Wednesday’s practice and that’s no surprise considering how happy Babcock was with the win over Dallas.

“I liked our game throughout much more than I have liked our other games,” he said. “We had good intensity, good battle, everybody was focused, we had good detail in our game. I liked our game … That was actually the most engaged we’ve been. We’ve done it once and now we’ve got to do it again.”

Frederik Gauthier remains the fourth-line centre while Kasperi Kapanen continues to look good on the right side of Matthews.

“Kappy’s had two and now Goat’s got to get to two,” said Babcock. “You have to learn to do it every day. Those guys are in the process of figuring that out.”

Lines in Wednesday’s practice:

Hyman-Tavares-Marner
Marleau-Matthews-Kapanen
Lindholm-Kadri-Brown
Leivo-Gauthier-Ennis
Johnsson

Rielly-Hainsey
Gardiner-Zaitsev
Dermott-Ozhiganov
Marincin-Holl

Andersen
Sparks

If you missed him, the Leafs’ website posted a post-practice video of Babcock speaking with the media, as well as clips of Matthews and Morgan Rielly’s post-practice comments…

 The Toronto Sun’s Terry Koshan suggests that we pay attention to the following storylines heading into Thursday night’s game:

  1. Auston all the time: Is Auston Matthews capable of continuing his offensive outburst? In short, yes, and not only because there’s nothing, apparently, that can stop him. In seven career games against Detroit, Matthews has seven goals. Against only the Montreal Canadiens (nine goals in eight games) and the Ottawa Senators (eight goals in nine games) has Matthews scored more.

  1. Heads up: Morgan Rielly always has been an above-average cerebral player going back to his junior days with Moose Jaw, and now the Leafs defenceman is putting it on full display with the options Toronto has at forward. Five of Rielly’s 10 points have come on the power play, and five at even-strength. His ability to move the puck will be key against a Wings team that will try to bring pressure.
  1. A desire to kill: Playing under control and with the right level of aggressiveness is key on any penalty kill, but for the Wings, it’s paramount. The Leafs’ first power-play unit was expected to be deadly and it has been that. “(Mitch) Marner is an elite power-play player, one of the best in the league,” Wings coach Jeff Blashill said. “Matthews is an elite player, (John) Tavares is an elite player. Just a lot of really good there.”
  2. Youth will be stirred: The Leafs were effective in Dallas for several reasons, among them the tenacity on the forecheck. A similar approach in Detroit should work, considering the inexperience of Wings defencemen Joe Hicketts, Libor Sulak and Filip Hronek, who have played in a total of 13 NHL games. Establish a dominating cycle game, and Toronto could have its way in the offensive zone.

If you’re interested in reliving the Leafs’ 7-4 win over Dallas on Tuesday, the Associated Press and NHL.com provide recaps, and NHL.com posted a highlight clip as well:

STATS’ game preview will serve as our pivot point between the Maple Leafs and Red Wings‘ perspectives:

The Wings, who lost an NHL-high 27 one-goal games last season, are 0-2 in one-goal games so far. After going 3-12 in overtime last season, Detroit dropped its season opener to the Columbus Blue Jackets in OT.

And after scoring 217 goals to finish 28th in the NHL in 2017-18, an average of 2.64 goals per game, the Red Wings are scoring at an even slower rate, with six goals during their 0-1-2 start.

“I feel like we’re definitely getting a lot of chances,” Detroit forward Andreas Athanasiou said. “I think the chances are right there. I’ve had two breakaways, missed the net. Eventually, they’re going to go in and we’ll see everything start to open up after that.”

The Red Wings will need to make the most of their chances Thursday, as they play host to the scoring machine that is the Toronto Maple Leafs. Off to a 3-1-0 start, Toronto has potted an NHL-high 20 goals, averaging five per game.

The Maple Leafs have scored seven goals in each of their last two games, a 7-6 win over the Chicago Blackhawks and a 7-4 triumph over the Dallas Stars, opening their four-game road trip 2-0.

Toronto center Auston Matthews leads the league in goals (seven) and points (10). Matthews has scored in every game and is on pace to finish with 144 goals. John Tavares has six goals, five in the past two games.

“When we move the puck well and keep things simple, we’ve got a lot of talent and skill out there,” Matthews told the team’s official website. “When we can find each other, we’ve got different weapons that can all score.”

The Red Wings addressed the challenges the Leafs present while speaking with the Detroit News’s Ted Kulfan

“They do look dangerous,” said forward Frans Nielsen, talking about a Leafs team that has scored seven goals in each of their last two games, both wins. “They have a few guys who are scoring at a real high pace. There’s definitely a few guys on that team you have to watch a little bit extra.”

The addition of Tavares, who somewhat surprisingly signed a seven-year contract worth $77 million with his hometown team, has provided exactly what Toronto expected.

With an already dynamic offensive team led by the young trio of Matthews, Mitch Marner and William Nylander, adding Tavares has given Babcock the opportunity to distribute three powerful scoring lines.

The young defense the Wings are playing with now will be severely tested. In the next-to-last preseason game, against a nearly-full Toronto lineup, the Leafs defeated the Wings 6-2.

“The good thing for us is, at least we saw them in the exhibition and all the young D (defensemen) played in that exhibition game,” Blashill said. “We know how fast they can come at you and we’re better prepared having done that.

“It doesn’t mean we’ll meet that challenge. It’s up to us to show that. If they’re coming at us flying 100 miles per hour the whole night, it’ll be a long night. We better put the puck behind them, grind them in their zone and make them defend as much as possible. If we do that we’ll be in a good spot. If we don’t, it’ll be a hard night.”

And MLive’s Ansar Khan:

“Hopefully they used up all their goals in the first couple of games,” Hicketts said. “They’re definitely a high-octane team, a team that thrives on the power play. We saw it in the preseason. It’s about managing the puck, staying out of the box and limiting their Grade A chances.”

Said goaltender Jimmy Howard: “We got to make it tough on them, make them play in their own end. We’re going to have to control the puck in the offensive zone.”

Toronto is 5 for 10 on the power play, tied for the league lead at 50 percent.

Kronwall, who suffered a “tweak” in practice four days before the season, was paired with Nick Jensen in practice. The other pairs were Danny DeKeyser-Hronek and Sulak-Hicketts.

Cholowski is tied for the team lead with three points (goal, two assists) while averaged 22:10 in ice time, second only to DeKeyser on the team (25:32). Blashill said Kronwall will replace Cholowski on the power play.

“I think they’ve done a tremendous job so far,” Kronwall said of the young defensemen. “It’s encouraging to see not just in the short term but also in the long term what we have in the organization, more than just seeing it in preseason.”

The Red Wings tweaked their forward lines during Wednesday’s practice, as noted by DetroitRedWings.com’s Dana Wakiji:

During Wednesday’s practice, there was a slight shift in the lines.

Nyquist skated with Andreas Athanasiou and Vanek while Abdelkader was on a line with Larkin and Mantha.

“Just a look to see if we can’t make one little adjustment to score a little bit more,” Blashill said. “I don’t know that I’ll stay with it necessarily but we wanted to look at it today. Again, I think we’re close to scoring. I’ve kept the pairs of Vanek and Double-A together, I’ve kept the pair of Larkin and Mantha together, but just thought if we flipped that a little bit — Nyquie’s got a real high hockey IQ, too, and had real good success with Vanek at the beginning two years ago. Now I know it was (Darren) Helm in between them but we’ll see if maybe we can replicate some of that.”

The line of Tyler Bertuzzi-Frans Nielsen-Michael Rasmussen remains intact, as does the line of Helm-Christoffer Ehn-Luke Glendening.

“I played with Vanek a little bit when he was here a couple years ago,” Nyquist said. “I started with him and Helmer, It think, and then we had Nielsen in the middle for a while there. Now we’re trying Double-A. I thought the lines were working fine but obviously we’re not scoring enough goals, probably just trying to try something new here, try some different guys in different spots and hopefully get a boost offensively from this.”

MLive’s Ansar Khan listed the Wings’ lines…

The Wings also told the Free Press’s Helene St. James that they feel they’re passing up opportunities to shoot, both literally and figuratively:

As the Detroit Red Wings seek their first victory of the season, one of the focal points is to not pass up quality scoring chances by passing instead of shooting. The Wings have scored two goals in each of their first three games, and if that doesn’t improve, the losses will continue.

“We have been passing up too many shots in the slot where there is a grade-a scoring chance and we’re trying to look for somebody back door for a tap-in,” Gustav Nyquist said Wednesday. “It usually hits someone’s skate or someone’s stick and then it deflects in the corner and then it’s not a scoring chance any more.

“I think it’s a matter of when you have a good scoring chance, take it and shoot yourself. The guy who is waiting for a back door tap-in can get to the rebound.”

Nyquist is second on the Wings with nine shots, behind Larkin’s 11. While players are shown video clips of where they could have shot instead of passed, it can be hard to implement in a game.

“Maybe you are seeing something out there for a quick second that you think someone is more open to score,” Nyquist said. “Maybe you are griping your stick a little too tight so you’re not willing to take those shots, even though you should. Unselfishness. There are a lot of different factors. It happens so quick, it’s a matter of less than a second you have to make that decision to pass or shoot.”

While video is great for showing examples of where a shot would have been a better option, drills in practice are used to instill a mindset.

“Our jobs as coaches is to try to build habits,” coach Jeff Blashill said. “Especially with a game that is as fluid as hockey, it’s about building habits so they can react in different situations the right way as many times as possible. With shooting off the pass, it’s just the mentality of getting the puck on and off your stick as fast as you can. We’ve introduced drills where they are required to do it, we’ve talked about it as a concept to do whenever possible.”

St. James also posted a clip of the Wings discussing their need to put more pucks on net


And the Red Wings posted Twitter clips of interviews with Niklas Kronwall…


Anthony Mantha…


Gustav Nyquist…


And Dylan Larkin…


As well as a video of coach Blashill’s remarks:


Also, from WXYZ’s Brad Galli:

Finally, DetroitRedWings.com’s Arthur J. Regner wrote a superb Wings-Leafs scouting report as well, and he takes us out with a historical stat of note:

Thursday will be the 666th meeting between the Red Wings and the Maple Leafs. Detroit leads the series 284-282-93-6. The Wings are 174-111-46-4 in games played in Detroit and are 110-171-47-2 in Toronto.

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George Malik

My name is George Malik, and I'm the Malik Report's editor/blogger/poster. I have been blogging about the Red Wings since 2006, when MLive hired me to work their SlapShots blog, and I joined Kukla's Korner in 2011 as The Malik Report. I'm starting The Malik Report as a stand-alone site, hoping that having my readers fund the website is indeed the way to go to build a better community and create better content.

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