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The overnight report: Red Wings-Maple Leafs wrap-up

The Red Wings' 6-3 loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs was both much closer than it appeared and exactly as close as the final score indicated, and that's particularly frustrating for the 4-and-3 Red Wings and their fans.

The Wings have lost two straight games, and they've lost two straight games because of mistakes characteristic of last year's misery, as well as plain old inattentiveness to detail, and there have just been some weird happenings, from a pair of goals on both Jimmy Howard and then Petr Mrazek's blocker and glove sides (respectively) to that strange goalie interference challenge that coach Blashill made that seemed to at least temporarily sap the wind out of the Wings' sails.

Detroit eventually out-shot Toronto by a wide margin in the 3rd period (15-8), carried the shots on the night (33-26) and just frickin' dominated attempts 56-38, but team Corsi Doesn't Matter struggled to generate substantive or repeateable scoring chances on Curtis McIlhinney, and while the Wings did manage to rally from 2-0 and 4-1 deficits to bring the game to within 4-3 Toronto, the Leafs pulled away and made Detroit look both flat-footed and sometimes dim-witted (like last year) in the process.

There were two statistical positives for the Wings in their loss: Tomas Tatar scored his 100th career goal, and Nick Jensen had a 3-assist performance (and didn't lose his right ear when a hard Rielly shot went right off the side of his head), but those were small comfort on a night that seemed to confirm all the worries about the Wings' ability to hang tough with the NHL's more dynamic teams.

For the Maple Leafs and their press corps, there was an added bit of swagger to the win because of the Leafs' tribute to Gord Downie prior to the game, and Sportsnet's Chris Johnston didn't hesitate to turn up the "our-national-band-loves-our-national-team" message in his recap (even though Fifty Mission Cap was written by a Bruins fan)...

In the moments between the action – between another gorgeous Auston Matthews goal and a turn-back-the-clock reply from Red Wings captain Henrik Zetterberg – there was a triumphant feeling in the air.

It ran much deeper than the scoreboard, where the home team prevailed 6-3.

“It just seems that every guy coming from Canada around my age group grew up listening to it,” said [Eric] Fehr. “I don’t think Auston or any of the other (young) guys really know much about it, but we’ll educate them over the next little while.”

There was a rendition of “Poets” played during warmups and “Courage” after the national anthems. The crowd cheered when the first few chords blared out of the speakers. You had “Little Bones” and “Fifty-Mission Cap” and “At the Hundredth Meridian” and “Nautical Disaster” during breaks in play and at the intermission.

...

There was some comfort to be found in the familiarity of Downie’s songs, not to mention the game we all love.

“I didn’t know (Downie) personally, but I knew a lot of guys who did,” said Leafs winger Patrick Marleau, before suiting up in his 1,500th career NHL regular season game. “(Joe) Thornton knew him pretty well I guess and he hung out with him last summer a little bit.”

The 38-year-old was a fan “growing up” and remains one today.

“Music is one of those things where it brings you back to certain times and certain places and it gives you a lot of good memories,” said Marleau.

Memories had, and those still to be made.

The Leafs' press also duly noted that Toronto followed up a big win over the Washington Capitals--again, if you buy into the revisionist history that is prevalent in Laff Land, how the first-round series should have ended last spring--and the Toronto Star's Mark Zwolinski addressed that aspect of the story, all while praising Curtis McIlhinney, who is supposed to be the Leafs' weak spot in goal:

At 6-1-0 for just the seventh time in franchise history, the Leafs stand alone atop the Eastern Conference.

The club’s success or failure on back-to-back nights will play a major role in how the season plays out. Coach Mike Babcock underlined how draining back-to-backs — 14 in all this season, four fewer than last year — can be for a team. So, sweeping their first one, after shutting out the Capitals in Washington on Tuesday — was sweet.

The Leafs went 12-3-3 in the first game when they played on consecutive nights last season, but 6-11-1 in the second.

“It was nice to get the first one at home,” Babcock said of the mini-sweep.

McElhinney had a tough act to follow.

“Freddy (Andersen) was so dialed in Tuesday night,” said McElhinney. “That’s the best I think I’ve seen him this season, so it felt good to get back in the nets tonight and get that win.”

Then there were the performances of the Leafs' young guns, which wowed the Toronto Sun's Steve Simmons--and left Henrik Zetterberg stewing after a Leaf reporter butted his head into Zetterberg's scrum with the Detroit media, asking him about Auston Matthews' pair of goals, with Zetterberg asking, "Did you see them? Well there you go..."

Another Auston Matthews shot. Another Auston Matthews how-did-he-do-that memory.

It is becoming regular, albeit shocking. The Maple Leafs season is only seven games old and the young future captain continues to score signature goal after signature goal.

He did it again Wednesday night in a rather odd game against the Detroit Red Wings. He left his calling card. He did what almost no one else can do in the National Hockey League.

Mike Babcock couldn’t come up with a shooting comparable. James vanRiemsdyk likes the way Alexander Ovechkin shoots, and has always been impressed with the quick releases of Phil Kessel and Daniel Briere. Patrick Marleau, the 500-goal scorer after his 1,500th game, took a moment to find a name.

He mentioned Joe Sakic. Then Teemu Selanne. Then he wasn’t sure. In this case, though, it’s about quickness, it’s about speed of delivery, it’s about angles, it’s about screens. It’s about catching a goalie unaware.

It may be about doing what’s never been done before: Matthews scored his sixth goal in seven games Wednesday night. The way in which he’s scoring. The method he is choosing. It is difficult to reference, because in truth, it’s probably never been done this way before. Matthews, like the greatest of players, is inventing new ways to score.

The Best Player Ever On The Best Team Ever In The Best Place Ever.

Or something like that. Probably in all capital letters. It's Toronto, and as the Globe and Mail's David Shoalts noted, the quality of Jimmy Howard's goaltending didn't play into the beauty of Matthews' goals, at least for the partisan home crowd:

Matthews knew what he was doing all the way on the goal, which is why he is a special player. "I was trying to use him as a screen and shoot around him or through his feet or something, just to get it to the net," Matthews said. "It's tough for a goalie to read, especially when its going through [the defenceman's] feet like that to get the angle."At that point, the Leafs had a 3-1 lead, as Kadri and Hyman scored ahead of Matthews. But it was actually the Red Wings who had the upper hand in the play to that point, hence the mere four shots by the Leafs, who were playing their second game in as many nights.

Petr Mrazek came in to relieve Howard but the Red Wings' woes continued. Mrazek let in the first shot he saw, a long wrister by Brown that came at him through a crowd at 16:26 to make it 4-1 for the Leafs.

"I don't think we were very happy with the way we played in the first," Rielly said. "They came out and controlled the majority of the play. We've got lots of guys who can put the puck in the net. When that happens early on, especially in the second of back-to-backs, [we] get the feeling we had a little bit of breathing room."

Down at the other end of the ice, Leafs goaltender Curtis McElhinney was making his first start of the season. He gave the Leafs what they needed – spelling number-one goaltender Frederik Andersen with a solid outing even though he looked bad on the first Detroit goal, a wraparound by Zetterberg that saw him stuck to the other goal post.

The Leafs' coach was satisfied with his team's work and his goaltender's performance on Wednesday, as he told the Toronto Sun's Lance Hornby:

“(Tuesday) night was a good win, though we got careless at times,” Leafs head coach Mike Babcock said of beating the Caps. “We got careless tonight (11 giveaways marked in the first period) and then were able to be mature enough and under control to get back in, get playing right. We had a good first (five-game) segment, we’re off to 2-0 in our next segment. We’re going in the right direction. It’s nice our first (back-to-back) was at home so you could match up (lines) accordingly. We used all four lines last night, a good rotation that helped us. A lot of guys were fresh. It took us a bit to get going, but once we got skating, we got better.”

Two timely goals stood out: Auston Matthews with another jaw dropping quick-draw release to make it 3-1 and a Morgan Rielly power play goal to answer second period tallies from Tomas Tatar and Jonathan Ericsson. Nazem Kadri started the scoring, Connor Brown notched his second in as many games after a shift change with the demoted Mitch Marner and an empty net goal by William Nylander meant he and linemates Matthews and Zach Hyman all triggered red lights.

“It’s important to have balanced scoring, not have it come from one guy or one line and we’ve have had that so far this season,” Rielly said. “It’s better to be playing ahead than from behind, but we’re not happy they controlled the majority of play (in the first). But on a back to back, you get a little cushion, it’s a good feeling.”

This game tested the team’s mettle physically and put McElhinney in the spotlight. The acquisition of Calvin Pickard from Vegas has put a cloud over the 34-year-old McElhinney’s future as Pickard gets acclimatized with the Marlies.

While McElhinney proved a compatible match for Andersen last season after arriving in January, each man nonetheless split wins on consecutive nights just twice in 2016-17.

“There’s a little rust on my end, that’s for sure,” said McElhinney, who hadn’t enjoyed a personal win since last March 28 and was idled by Andersen taking the first six games in October. “But it sure felt nice to get in there and the run support early on was nice.”

TorontoMapleLeafs.com's Adam Proteau praised McIlhinney in his "Five Takeaways"...

McElhinney holds the fort as Toronto extends win streak to three games. In comparison to the first two periods, the third was a lower-risk affair, though the Wings grew increasingly desperate in the second half of the frame and began putting a notable amount of pressure on McElhinney. However, the veteran responded well, preventing Detroit from scoring on any of their 15 shots in the period and securing Toronto's third consecutive victory.

Winger William Nylander added an empty-net goal for the Leafs, giving each member of the Nylander-Matthews-Hyman line a marker and boosting the Buds' confidence as they turn their attention to their next game - a Saturday-night tilt in Ottawa against the provincial rival Senators. Toronto has won six of their first seven games for the seventh time in the franchise's 100-year history, and they're winning both low-scoring games (as they did Tuesday in their 2-0 win over Washington) and contests with a slew of goals. They've still got room to improve, but Toronto is finding ways to win, and that's terrific news for Leafs Nation.

Whle the Wunderkind made a somewhat ironic comment in speaking with TSN's Kristen Shilton:

“We just got away from our game there in the second period,” said Auston Matthews, reiterating a refrain he’s used before about the Leafs’ middle frame. “They got us back on our heels but we got back to playing our type of game and playing simple and getting the puck in there and took over from there.”

The burgeoning maturity of the Leafs is what once again carried them through to another victory – that and a strong 30-save performance from McElhinney, who had 192 days off between starts. Toronto has now given up at least 30 shots in six of their first seven games, sitting sixth-worst in the league in that area (averaging 34.7 per game).

It hasn’t been perfect, but for now the Leafs offence is sustaining them until they can figure out the rest.  

“It feels great [to be in first place],” said McElhinney. “It’s still early but we’re scoring in bunches and that goes a long way early on. I think as the season progresses I’d like to see us tighten us a bit but that comes with experience and games here.”

We'll begin our transition from the Leafs' perspectives to those of the Red Wings' players and coach via NHL.com's Dave McCarthy's recap...

Nazem Kadri, Zach Hyman, Auston Matthews and Connor Brown scored in the first period for the Maple Leafs (6-1-0), who have won three consecutive games.

Morgan Rielly and William Nylander scored, and Curtis McElhinney made 30 saves in his first start of the season for Toronto, which has the best record in the NHL.

"It feels really good, the guys are happy," Rielly said. "We've had some hard-fought wins where we've really taken some pride in it, but that being said, we're just getting started here. The season's only two weeks old, so we have a long way to go. It's a good feeling to start this way, but it's a long season."

Henrik Zetterberg, Tomas Tatar and Jonathan Ericsson scored, and Nick Jensen had three assists for the Red Wings (4-3-0), who have lost two consecutive games.

Jimmy Howard allowed three goals on four shots and was replaced by Petr Mrazek, who allowed a goal on the first shot he faced before making 19 saves on the final 20 shots.

"There was some kind of funny goals, I don't know if that was all on (the goalies). I think some of it is where it was just one of those nights where it goes in for them," Red Wings coach Jeff Blashill said. "We did tons of good stuff and had lots of good moments, especially in the first (period) where we carried the play, but it just seemed like everything they threw at the net when in. I can't say that's always goaltending, just sometimes that's how it goes."

And we'll continue and conclude our transition via the Canadian Press's recap:

Nazem Kadri, Zach Hyman, Auston Matthews, Connor Brown, Morgan Rielly and William Nylander scored to help Toronto improve to an NHL-best 6-1-0.

"Great to see, but it's still October," Kadri said. "There's a lot of good teams and it won't be this loose for long."

The Maple Leafs were coming off a 2-0 victory at Washington on Tuesday night.

"We used everybody last night, a good four-line rotation, so that helped us," Toronto coach Mike Babcock said. "Our guys were fresher than they might have been. McElhinney had a real solid effort for us, he had to be good early. Even though we scored (early) it took a while to get our legs going."

Henrik Zetterberg, Tomas Tatar, Jonathan Ericsson scored for the Red Wings, and Nick Jensen had three assists. Jimmy Howard gave up three goals on four shots before getting yanked in favor of Petr Mrazek late in the first period.

Toronto scored on its first two shots and four of its first five.

"I think there was some funny goals," Red Wings coach Jeff Blashill said. "I don't know if it was all on them, some of it is. It's one of those nights."

For what it's worth--let's get this out of the way--coach Blashill explained his decisions to make two challenges on goals that both counted, as he told DetroitRedWings.com's Dana Wakiji...

Challenges: Jonathan Ericsson is not an offensive defenseman like Mike Green. But he put a rocket of a shot past Toronto goaltender Curtis McElhinney at 8:36 of the second. The goal was immediately waved off as the officials believed Justin Abdelkader, screening in front, had interfered with McElhinney. The Wings challenged the call and after the review, they overturned it and the goal counted, cutting the Toronto lead to 4-3. It was Ericsson's first goal since the Centennial Classic on Jan. 1 against these Maple Leafs. The Wings tried another challenge when the Leafs scored on the power play at 12:57 of the second for goaltender interference, but this time the call did not go their way.

I didn't like the judgment call on Rielly as I thought it was a marginal-chance call, but I'm not the coach, and I wouldn't want to be the coach.

Quotable: "It's a judgment call, I'm never convinced of anything. Those are judgment calls. You have to understand. You understand this, there's tons of different refs in the league, everyone's got their own kind of view on it. If you think it's close as a coach, you got to challenge it because you just never know what the read's going to be from the referee's part. I get it, they're hard calls to make. Both of them I thought had opportunities. I thought the one that did go our way could go our way and the one that didn't go our way could have went our way. You just never know." - Blashill

Quotable II: "I thought I was out of the crease when I looked down. He had mentioned maybe right before that, so I wasn't sure if I got him before that. I thought I was out of the crease, so I thought it was a good goal but that's why we have the reviews." - Abdelkader

Blashill was actually relatively satisfied with "the process" of the game, as he told the Detroit News's Ted Kulfan...

The Red Wings were right back in the game, but Rielly’s power play goal restored the two-goal lead for Toronto at 12:57.

“It’s a one-shot game, we’re playing good hockey at that point, I think we’re winning the game, and we take a penalty and they score on a seeing-eye shot from the point,” Blashill said.

Blashill wasn’t entirely satisfied with some sloppiness, nor with an 0-for-3 performance on the power play.

“The process on the power play has been good for large parts of the season but we need to get results,” Blashill said. “Same thing goes with our team. The process Monday (a loss to Tampa) was very good. In large parts the process was good (Wednesday) but we have to eliminate some mental errors. We have to make sure all 20 guys are going but we also have to get results. The urgency has to be real high come Friday (against Washington).”

And goaltending-wise, the Wings simply felt that:

A) Shit happens;

B) Said shit is not an excuse for stopping playing:

“There were some funny kind of goals,” said coach Jeff Blashill, not putting the entire blame on the goaltending. “I don’t know if it was all on them. Some of it was it was one of those nights where it kind of goes in for them. We did tons of good stuff and had a lot of moments, especially in the first (period) where we carried the play. But everything they seemed to throw at the net went in.”

Mrazek, after allowing a goal on the first shot he saw, settled down and stopped 19 of 21 overall.

“As a second goalie you have to be ready on the bench, but it’s never easy to go in,” Mrazek said. “You’re cold and they’re playing fast and hard, and after the goals, they got momentum. The first shot went in, it got through three or four guys and off the post, but after that, we played real well.”

The Red Wings (4-3-0, 8 points) lost their second consecutive game in what was a supposed to be a litmus test to their quick start this season.

Henrik Zetterberg was surprisingly defiant after the game, as Hockeybuzz's Bob Duff noted...

“I thought we really came out pushing them,” Zetterberg said. “I thought we came out with good speed, had a good forecheck. Unfortunately, they were scoring the goals.”

Boy, were they ever. The Leafs put their first two shots past Jimmy Howard, who was hooked in favor of Petr Mrazek. And two of the first three shots he faced also illuminated the red light behind him.

“Obviously it’s not fun when that happens but it’s part of the game,” Zetterberg said of Detroit’s sieve-like netminding. “It happens sometimes. We just had to put that aside and keep doing what we were doing. I thought we played good in the first and were still down 4-1.”

What we’ve learned so far about the Wings is that when they put it all together, they can beat the NHL’s mediocre and weaker clubs. But if they come off it even a bit, as they did in their first loss of the season at Dallas, they will go down to defeat.

Can they put it all together and beat a quality team? That hasn’t happened yet, and they get their chance to do so on Friday.

“We didn’t get any points here,” Zetterberg said after Wednesday’s loss. “We didn’t get any points last game. That’s what it comes down to. Now we’ve got to refocus here and keep playing good hockey at home here against Washington.”

We'll conclude with some of the Free Press's Helene St. James' observations regarding the Wings' loss:

First-period falter: The Wings had good offensive zone time and got the first four shots on net, only for the Leafs to take a 2-0 lead inside a minute. First, Nazem Kadri beat Howard short side at 5:56, and then Zach Hyman tipped Morgan Rielly’s shot at 6:39. The Wings had six shots on net, but nothing to show for it. ... They earned a power play at 9:09 but couldn’t maintain possession of the puck and never got a shot on Curtis McElhinney. ... Auston Matthews deked in the left circle to angle the puck short side on Howard at 13:46, ending Howard’s night.

“I felt like it felt the same way as against Tampa,” Tatar said. “We start good and the bounces went the opposite way and they score too many times. It’s kind of tough to recover from it.”

Zetterberg scores again: Zetterberg took the puck from Jensen and skated behind the Maple Leafs’ net for a wraparound goal that made it 2-1 at 12:10 of the first period. Zetterberg made his fourth goal of the season look easy, sliding the puck into a net while McElhinney tried to slide over for the block.

Mrazek takes over: Mrazek got beat on the first shot he faced, when Connor Brown wired the puck through traffic and the puck went in glove-side. The puck didn’t change direction, and Mrazek needed to cover the angle even if he lost sight of the puck. ... Morgan Rielly used a screen to beat Mrazek on a power play at 15:28 of the second period. The Wings challenged goaltender interference but officials ruled there was none.

Tatar notches no. 100: Tatar got the Wings within 4-2 at 7:02 of the second period. Larkin raced the puck into Toronto’s zone and passed to Tatar, who fired a puck on net and then popped the rebound. It was his first goal of the season, and 100th of his NHL career.

Multimedia:

Highlights: NHL.com posted a 4:58 highlight clip:

The Maple Leafs' website posted its usual 6-minute highlight clip:

NHL.com also posted an 8:53 "Condensed game":

Post-game: The Maple Leafs' YouTube channel posted clips of Curtis McIlhinney, Morgan Rielly, Zach Hyman, Nazem Kadri, Patrick Marleau, Auston Matthews and coach Mike Babcock's post-game comments;

Fox Sports Detroit posted clips of Tomas Tatar, Petr Mrazek and coach Jeff Blashill's post-game comments:

 

 

The Red Wings posted a clip in which Henrik Zetterberg, Mrazek, Tatar, Justin Abdelkader and Blashill speak with the media:

The Free Press's Helene St. James posted a clip of the above-mentioned Red Wings players and coach speaking with the media as well:

Photos: The Free Press posted a 12-image gallery;

The Detroit News posted a 13-image gallery;

The Toronto Sun posted a 30-image gallery;

ESPN posted a 54-image gallery;

And the Red Wings' website and NHL.com posted 67-image galleries.

Statistics:

Here's the Game Summary...

And the Event Summary

 

Red Wings notebooks and also of Red Wings-related note: The Grand Rapids Griffins took part in their annual "Tip-A-Griffin" fundraising night at Grand Rapids Uccello's restaurants on Wednesday, and WZZM 13 posted a clip of a surprisingly chatty Tyler Bertuzzi discussing the event:

In the prospect department, in the WHL, Michael Rasmussen took 2-and-10 for cross-checking in the Tri-City Americans' 3-2 OT win over Everett;

And finally, this one, you already know, per the Toronto Sun's Lance Hornby:

Babcock acknowledged his good fortune in working with so many of the biggest names in the game, starting with his first job in Anaheim, through Detroit with Pavel Datsyuk, Nicklas Lidstrom and Henrik Zetterberg, his Olympic and World Cup duties and now to the Leafs with Marleau’s arrival.

“You learn a lot from those guys, be it Shanny (Leafs president Brendan Shanahan when he was a Red Wing), Stevie Yzerman, Chris Chelios or Dominik Hasek.

“You learn from every great player you coach, because they do things and suddenly you want to take what they do and teach everybody. You give it a name — Nickisms, Pavisms, Zeeisms — I call them a lot of different things.”

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About The Malik Report

The Malik Report is a destination for all things Red Wings-related. I offer biased, perhaps unprofessional-at-times and verbose coverage of my favorite team, their prospects and developmental affiliates. I've joined the Kukla's Korner family with five years of blogging under my belt, and I hope you'll find almost everything you need to follow your Red Wings at a place where all opinions are created equal and we're all friends, talking about hockey and the team we love to follow.

 

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