The Detroit Red Wings dropped their 10th straight road game over the course of a 4-3 loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs on Saturday night.
The Red Wings did their best to out-hustle the Maple Leafs, but the Wings blew 2-1 and 3-2 leads en route to their defeat.
Things don’t get any easier as the Wings will complete a 3-games-in-4-nights slate by heading to Montreal to play the Canadiens on Monday and host the Penguins on Monday.
For our friends from Toronto, Saturday’s win was earned descriptions such as “ugly,” “scrappy,” “plucky” and “gritty.” Coach Mike Babcock told TSN’s Kristen Shilton that the Leafs managed to win against what turned out to be a more difficult opponent than his charges may have believed the Wings to be:
“I told our team before, they were going to make it hard on us, they were going to be above us, be good defensively. I don’t know if anyone believed me, but probably during the game they did,” said Babcock. “But we found a way to win. I think on nights when you don’t have your best stuff and you find a way to win, it’s a real good sign.”
There’s no question the Leafs played below their capabilities against Detroit, especially over the first 40 minutes. The opening period was a sloppy affair from both sides, marred by too many penalties (three by Detroit, two from Toronto) and the Leafs playing into the Red Wings’ hand instead of grinding them down with the cycle. But a goal from Kasperi Kapanen late in the frame put the Leafs up 1-0 going into the second period, a frantic stretch during which Toronto lost its lead, fell into a deficit, and then used a Connor Brown marker to even the score at 2-2 before the third began.
Compared to the command Toronto had over Nashville in their 5-2 win on Thursday, the Leafs’ were frequently flat-footed against Detroit, and let the Red Wings dictate the pace far more than usual. After two periods, the Leafs were being outshot 30-23 en route to making Frederik Andersen face 41 on the night. It was the third time in their last seven games that Toronto has ceded at least 40 shots on net.
“When you play the top two teams in the league back to back, their record gets you prepared, you don’t have to prepare yourself,” said Babcock. “But when it’s the other way around, you have to get yourself prepared. Obviously tonight we weren’t quite as good at that.”
While the Leafs had too many passengers all around, Nazem Kadri’s line with Patrick Marleau and Mitch Marner stood out for turning in one of their worst outings in weeks. They struggled just to get through the neutral zone against a bruising Detroit defence, turning pucks over and losing key battles. At a team-worst 23 per cent possession, the Kadri unit saw little offensive zone time – but when it mattered most, they found a way to make that time count.
After Detroit took back the lead early in the third period on a convoluted review and challenge of a Frans Nielsen goal (the score was initially called off upon referee-initiated review for goaltender interference, only to have that call overturned after a Detroit challenge), the Leafs found something resembling a second wind. The hunger they lacked for much of the previous 48 minutes came out in full force all at once, first with William Nylander tying the game again courtesy of a great set-up from Auston Matthews, and then Marleau teed up Kadri’s game-winner with a highlight-reel worthy saucer pass off the rush that hit Kadri’s tape in stride.
The Leafs’ goaltender told the Toronto Sun’s Lance Hornby that the game’s ebb and flow were enjoyable…
Frederik Andersen’s career-tying 35th win will go down as one of the weirdest, 38 saves, yet the puck was unpredictable right up to a late-game shot that skipped off his glove and plopped down in the blue paint. He also stopped a Martin Frk penalty shot and groused about goalie interference being oveturned by a coach’s challenge on a strike by his Herning, Denmark neighbour, Frans Nielsen.
“Different kind of goals, but a fun game,” said Andersen. “I don’t know what that was. I don’t think there was any doubt (he was nudged).”
On the 35 wins — and a shot at matching or bettering the club record of 37 held by Ed Belfour and Andrew Raycroft — the modest Andersen said “this is a good team and I’m going to get good results.”
Detroit held a 3-2 lead until Nick Jensen made one of those unforced errors that have killed the Wings this season, losing the puck along the boards in the shadow of his net, which Matthews gobbled to set up Nylander.
Marleau, the 38-year-old wonder forward, then made a fine rush for his 41st point of the year, holding on to the puck until the Wings committed before hitting Kadri on the backhand for his 29th. Babcock thought their line with Mitch Marner left a lot to be desired before the goal, starting with a nice play by Marner in Toronto’s zone.
“They did a good job in the neutral zone,” Kadri said of the Wings. “All in all, these games can’t be perfect, but you have to find a way and we did. Good play all around (on the winner), Patty burned him with his speed and I tried to find a lane for him and he made a fantastic pass.”
And Sportsnet’s Luke Fox focused on the games played by the Leafs’ fourth-line forwards…
Deadline scoop Tomas Plekanec centred Marlies recruits Andreas Johnsson and Kasperi Kapanen, and that group ranked high among all Leafs in 5-on-5 possession. The diligence of Johnsson (forecheck) and Plekanec (backcheck) drew penalties at both ends of the ice, and the trio conjured more sustained pressure than a bottom trio should.
Heck, the Leafs’ unofficial fifth line at practice these days — Martin-Moore-Leivo — would be an upgrade on plenty of opponents’ fourth lines, to say nothing of the injured Leo Komarov (knee), whose return needn’t be hasty.
It was Kapanen who broke open a sloppy first frame that featured awkward collisions, caught skate edges, Zach Hyman’s first official “fight,” and a share of bobbled pucks you’d expect from a game that means so little for the fate of either side.
And Fox briefly turned his focus toward the vanquished visitors:
The Red Wings, having whiffed on the post-season in consecutive campaigns for the first time since 1982-83, are still within striking distance of Ottawa, Arizona and Vancouver when it comes to boosting their draft lottery odds.
“We all know we’re in a transition here. We’ve got younger players coming in. All the teams go through it,” said captain Henrik Zetterberg. “We’ve got to get lucky in the draft. We’ve got a lot of picks.”
Hey, that strategy worked for the Leafs and all of their people.
The Toronto Star’s Rosie DiManno focused on the role that James van Riemsdyk played in the Leafs’ win, but her column is just…weird…
Even with less ice time than Komarov, JVR has racked up a career-best and team-leading 34 goals, eight of them in the five games leading into Saturday, 11 on the power play. Perhaps even more exceptionally, 23 goals at even strength, only a deuce behind Auston Matthews, who of course has missed 21 games.
Mercy, JVR has been bringing it.
Or even just using that long stemmed six-foot-three 220-pound body to create net-front havoc that benefits others — as he did on Toronto’s first goal last night, causing a wreck just outside the paint, tangling himself up with Wings defenceman Nick Jensen, quite deliberately, thereby allowing Tyler Bozak to slide the puck out into the slot, Kasperi Kapenen sliding it right back through the legs of Jonathan Ericsson and past a sprawling Jimmy Howard. Secondary assist for JVR.
And, ultimately, Kadri and Marleau combined to author the Wings’ demise, as TorontoMapleLeafs.com’s Adam Proteau noted in his “5 Takeaways“:
Marleau and Kadri combine to produce game-winner as Leafs’ home win streak continues. The visitors gave the Leafs a tough time, but Toronto picked up momentum as the third period unfolded, and Howard’s heroics in net couldn’t stop the Buds from registering the game-winner with 7:26 left in the frame. Centre Nazem Kadri got Toronto’s fourth goal of the night when he finished off a terrific 2-on-1 rush that began when linemate Patrick Marleau picked up the puck at Detroit’s blueline, then perfectly flipped a backhand pass to Kadri, who banged it into the open net for his 29th goal of the season.
From there, the Leafs held on to lock up their 45th win of the season. Toronto can increase their consecutive home win record to 14 in a row Monday when the Buffalo Sabres come to town. And although this game likely wasn’t ideal from the perspective of Buds head coach Mike Babcock, he’ll be happy to take the two points and build on it.
The Canadian Press’s recap will serve as our pivot point between the Leafs and Wings‘ perspectives:
Kasperi Kapanen, Connor Brown and William Nylander had the other goals for Toronto (45-23-7), which got 38 saves from Frederik Andersen.
Dylan Larkin, Tyler Bertuzzi and Frans Nielsen replied for Detroit (27-37-11).
Jimmy Howard made 25 stops for the Red Wings, who are 1-11-1 over their last 13 games and about to miss the playoffs for the second straight spring after making the post-season 25 years in a row.
The Red Wings went ahead 3-2 at 4:58 of the third period when Nielsen sniped his 15th shortside over Andersen’s shoulder and off the camera inside the Leafs net from a tight angle. Initially waved off for goalie interference, the call was overturned after a coach’s challenge.
Nylander came back and tied it 2:29 later when he stole the puck from Nick Jensen and played a terrific give-and-go with Auston Matthews for his 16th.
Matthews now has a goal and an assist in two games back after missing 10 straight with a shoulder injury.
After Kadri put Toronto ahead, Andersen had a nervy moment with 3:36 to go when Gustav Nyquist’s shot from outside the blue line went off his glove and landed in the crease before he covered up.
“It was a fun game,” said Andersen, who tied a career high with his 35th win of the season. “A lot of different kinds of goals, but a fun game and obviously a good win for us. We stepped up a little bit in the third.”
The Red Wings felt that they played fairly well, but their mistakes damned them again, as Henrik Zetterberg told NHL.com’s Dave McCarthy…
“They’re a good team, they’re good at forcing turnovers, and when they get the puck with speed they have some skilled guys who can make plays,” Red Wings captain Henrik Zetterberg said. “Today, the last goal was a 2-on-1, and the one before that we had full control behind our net.”
Nazem Kadri made it 4-3 with 7:26 left in the third period. He scored after taking a 2-on-1 pass from Patrick Marleau, who carried the puck through the neutral zone and lifted a backhand over Red Wings defenseman Luke Witkowski.
And while the Wings’ coach was more optimistic, losing is “getting old” for the Red Wings, as the Detroit News’s Ted Kulfan noted:
“We did tons of good stuff, for large moments of the game we carried the play,” coach Jeff Blashill said. “They certainly had chances and Jimmy was excellent when they had chances, and we have to limit some of those, we can’t give up that fourth (goal) rush. We have to keep grinding here.”
Toronto won its 13th straight game on home ice, and tied the franchise record with 45 victories (45-23-7, 97 points).
The Red Wings (27-37-11, 65 points) are winless in 12 of their last 13 games (1-11-1).
“It’s getting old,” said forward Dylan Larkin, who opened the Red Wings’ scoring. “We have seven games left. We have to finish on a positive note and find ways to dig deep and win these games.”
The Red Wings took at 3-2 lead in the third period on Frans Nielsen’s 15th goal at the 5-minute mark. The goal was originally waved off for goalie interference on Justin Abdelkader. But upon video review on a Wings’ challenge was ruled a goal, Abdelkader skating through the crease but never making contact with goalie Frederik Andersen.
But Toronto quickly tied it, forward William Nylander stripping the puck from Nick Jensen and feeding Auston Matthews, who faked a shot and found Nylander open at the post for Nylander’s 17th goal at 7:27.
“They’re good at forcing turnovers and they get the puck with speed, they have so many skill guys who can make plays,” captain Henrik Zetterberg said.
The Free Press’s Helene St. James attempted to accentuate the positive by discussing the progress made by the Wings’ younger players, specifically Dylan Larkin and Tyler Bertuzzi:
Bertuzzi made it 2-1 when he tipped Danny DeKeyser’s shot midway through the second period. A bit part of Bertuzzi’s effectiveness is his willingness to battle in dirty areas.
“It’s hard, it’s not fun, but it’s worth it,” he said.
How quickly the Wings regain competitiveness hinges on the young guys. Evgeny Svechnikov just scored his first NHL goal last week. Larkin reached 12 goals in the Leafs game, and Bertuzzi’s third goal gave him 19 points in 41 games.
“It’s good to see guys like Bert and Larks score,” coach Jeff Blashill said. “Larks has been playing real good for a while and hasn’t necessarily gotten rewarded with offense. It was good for Bert to score – he’s been playing excellent hockey. From that aspect, it’s been good. Tyler wins tons of stick battles, finds a way to have the puck on his stick tons. I’m real impressed with him and his game.”
Dylan Larkin spoke bluntly with St. James regarding the state of the team:
“We’d like to be in playoff spot but the compete level that Blash talks about a lot, it hasn’t been a question this year, even to the end,” Larkin said. “We’re young right now. Guys are figuring out how to score, including myself. Everyone can improve on areas of their game so everyone takes a little step in the right direction, and I think next year we could be like Jersey – look at them, they’re in a playoff spot and have some good young players and everyone seemed to take a step from last year to this year.
“Every day is experience, every game. You need to prove yourself every day, especially this time. This is when character shows and I think the encouraging part is our character as a team, our identity as a team, we’re not backing off. We’re not giving up. The attitude has stayed the same. That’s a credit to our leadership, coaching staff – the message has been the same all year.”
Regrettably, the Wings’ learning has come via losing a silly number of one-goal games, and as much as the veterans are proud of their young charges, they’re getting worn down by the losses as well. Howard and Zetterberg suggested as much to DetroitRedWings.com’s Dana Wakiji:
Quotable: “I thought once again we played hard. But just the same thing every night. It’s like Groundhog Day for us right now. They’re deep. They’ve got their forwards that can definitely fly. But I thought we did a good job for the most part tonight limiting their opportunities, limiting their chances. They’re just a dangerous team.” – Howard
Quotable II: “Overall we did a lot of good things. I thought the PK played real well. Howie was good. We got over 40 shots against a defensive-minded team. We got a lot of pucks through. There was a few turnovers that cost us, or odd-man rushes I would say more, too. We’ve seen it before.” – Zetterberg
Here’s hoping that the Wings can land a win or two over the course of their final couple of games, if only for morale’s sake. This is hard to watch, hard to cover, and I’m sure, hard to play.
Highlights: Sportsnet posted a 5:00 highlight clip:
The Free Press’s Helene St. James posted a 4:46 clip of comments from Henrik Zetterberg, Jimmy Howard, Tyler Bertuzzi, Dylan Larkin and coach Jeff Blashill:
The Detroit News posted a 16-image gallery;
ESPN posted a 43-image gallery;
Here’s the Game Summary…
And the Event Summary:
The final shot attempts were 65-65 on Detroit’s 41-29 shot advantage.
Red Wings notebooks and also of Red Wings-related note: Among the Toronto Sun’s Lance Hornby’s notes:
Luke Glendening remains a Red Wing, a month after one of the hot trade deadline rumours had the Leafs pursuing him as a fourth-liner. Glendening was a Babcock favourite in Motown, but a deal was not consummated. Glendening has a cap-friendly $1.8 million US hit for a couple of more years. The Leafs went with Tomas Plekanec as their depth move at fourth-line centre in a deal with Montreal.
“You hear what you hear,” Glendening said of all that speculation around Feb. 26. “But we’re trying to win games here and we were (then). I was just trying to stay focused on what I was doing.”
As to what Babcock’s influence meant to his development, Glendening was more forthcoming.
“Mike gave me my chance in the NHL, taught me a lot about being a complete player. I’m not going to score a lot of goals, just try and keep the puck out of my net. I’m obviously very thankful for the impact he had on my career and I can’t say enough good things.”