Red Wings-Maple Leafs set-up: pressure’s on Toronto to deliver (as per usual)

The 4-2-and-2 Detroit Red Wings will play a classic Hockey Night in Canada match-up against the 3-4-and-1 Toronto Maple Leafs on Saturday night (7 PM EDT start on Bally Sports Detroit/CBC/97.1 FM).

The Red Wings are coming into Toronto having flown overnight into Lester B. Pearson Airport, having dropped a 3-2 OT loss to the Florida Panthers on Friday night;

Our friends from Toronto have been sitting and stewing in the sports talk radio vibes since their 4-3 OT win over the Chicago Blackhawks this past Wednesday–a win that snapped a 4-game losing streak–and the Leafs kick off a 5-game home stand after having made news on Friday for extending defenseman Morgan Rielly via an 8-year, $60 million contract extension.

None other than Leafs GM Kyle Dubas called upon his team to snap out of a cold start on Friday, as the Toronto Sun’s Terry Koshan noted:

“I don’t think anybody wants to hear any words about what the (antidote) is or what we’re going to be doing,” Dubas said on Friday. “It’s all in our actions and how we play — our focus, our work ethic, our attention to detail.”

The Leafs won their most recent outing, 3-2 in overtime in Chicago against the Blackhawks on Wednesday. But Dubas rightfully lumped that in with the three previous games. Each was a loss, and none featured much inspiring play by the Leafs. Having to come back to beat a winless Chicago team after falling behind 2-0 didn’t exactly have the Leafs yelling with pride from the rooftops.

“Everyone saw (the past four games), there’s no reason to run from it or hide from it,” Dubas said. “I think everyone’s tired of hearing from us about what we’re going to do.

“It’s about going out (Saturday) night and all through this home stand and getting back to work. The team has shown what they’re capable of going back to last season, the regular season, the beginning of this year.

“My hope is that we’re able to use this to go through and endure some difficulty and some question marks and some criticism and learn how to deal with that well and help propel us forward.”

The GM frames tonight’s game as follows:

“We’ve got a lot of new guys that we’re integrating into the group,” Dubas said. “Some have come in and seamlessly fit in and played well and others are trying to find their way.

“We’ve got Detroit coming in, they’ve got off to a good start and we know that they’re going to work, they’re a young team aspiring to grow within our division It’s on us to come out and show what we’re made of and build off the comeback (in Chicago) and start to stack wins together.”

With Petr Mrazek starting, likely opposite Thomas Greiss, the Toronto Sun’s Koshan also reported that the Leafs were swapping out a defenseman who’s already signed

Justin Holl is going to pay for his poor play. The Maple Leafs defenceman will be a healthy scratch on Saturday against Detroit, with Timothy Liljegren drawing into the Toronto lineup.

That won’t be the only change on the Leafs blue line. New pairs will also include Morgan Rielly with Travis Dermott, and Jake Muzzin with TJ Brodie.

Of that group, Muzzin has been as ineffective as Holl, but his veteran status presumably gives him a reprieve. Muzzin has been on the ice for a team-high 11 goals against during five-on-five play. Holl has been on the ice for 10 against.

“We have not played well enough as a unit defensively,” Leafs coach Sheldon Keefe said. “That’s as a team. That includes the forwards and their contributions as well. The D corps has not played well enough. It’s not just Justin Holl. But he has not played near his level that we have come to expect. He has earned a greater degree of expectations and responsibility through his play, but has not been to that level to start.”

Absent the usual over-analysis of Riellly’s deal, and panic in Toronto in general on Friday now that their Big Four are a Big Five (Auston Matthews, William Nylander, Mitch Marner, John Tavares and now Morgan Rielly), I had an incredibly difficult time finding the Leafs’ forward lines, so, we’ll skip ahead to Lance Hornby’s Wings-Leafs preview from the Toronto Sun:

Headline: Hockeytown back on the map

After three years of first-round eliminations, then the past five without a playoff spot at all, fortunes could be changing in Detroit. A good start, in which they’ve won a few tight games, has given coach Jeff Blashill some optimism and kept the heat off after general manager Steve Yzerman bucked public sentiment to go in another direction and keep Blashill another year.

The play of Dylan Larkin, who had the come-from-behind overtime winner earlier this week against Washington, fits that trend, as well as the youthful Wings being the division’s best shot blocking team prior to Friday’s home game against Florida.

Three things about the Red Wings

1. The Leafs will face the league’s top two scoring rookies in Raymond and German-born Moritz Seider, the latter tied with Anaheim’s Jamie Drysdale for the freshman lead in time on ice per game (21:51).

2. Toronto will be spared from shadowing Wings leading point man Bertuzzi, whose refusal to get vaccinated leaves him unable to play games in Canada for a second time this year.

3. Initial plans were for Detroit to use Alex Nedeljkovic in net Friday in a divisional match against the Panthers, which likely means Thomas Greiss versus Toronto. Petr Mrazek is back in the Toronto net after a two-week groin injury layoff to face his draft team.

And, if you’re interested in rehashing the Leafs’ win over Chicago, you may do so via Sportsnet’s highlights thereof:

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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.