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The Malik Report

The overnight report: Red Wings-Leafs set-up—Wings getting the Leafs at the right time?

The Detroit Red Wings host the Toronto Maple Leafs this evening (7:30 PM on FSD/TSN4/97.1 FM), and in theory, the 11-13-and-7 Red Wings are getting the 20-12-and-1 Maple Leafs at a good time.

Toronto is coming off a 2-0 loss to the Minnesota Wild on Thursday, and the Leafs have lost 2 straight games without the services of Auston Matthews, who is probably undergoing a concussion protocol at present. Toronto sits second in the Atlantic Division at present, and the Leafs will be starting goaltender Curtis McIlhinney opposite Jimmy Howard this evening.

On Thursday night, the Leafs decompressed and debriefed after their loss to the Wild, as noted by the Toronto Sun's Lance Hornby:

With Thursday’s 2-0 Minnesota win — the Wild’s eighth in the past nine over Toronto and most coming at Xcel Energy Center — the Leafs not only lost again, they dropped back-to-back regulation games for the first time in almost six weeks.

After getting along well in the first five games without injured leading scorer Auston Matthews, they’ve dropped the past two and produced just three goals the past three games.

“I think this is just another learning experience, a playoff-style game,” insisted winger Mitch Marner. “They were cutting down chances and they were hard through the middle. We have to get over this and get back to the way we can play. We have to throw more pucks in and get guys in there.”

Though the Leafs have played an Atlantic Division-high 33 games, there’s no rest with another in Detroit on Friday ending this three-game trip, which could produce zero points without a rebound against the rested Red Wings.

“Every team goes through that when the big games come a mile a minute,” winger James van Riemsdyk said.
With a third-period push, the Leafs made it up to 28 shots Thursday, but couldn’t get one past ex-Marlie Alex Stalock, the first NHL goalie to blank the Leafs this season.

“We can’t hang our heads too low about this one,” Toronto goalie Frederik Andersen said of his observations at the other end. “They did a good job with the sticks in the shooting lanes, keeping us from the inside.”

Toronto coach Mike Babcock held off the whip, saying his team saw exactly the game plan he expected from the methodical Wild, including 21 blocked shots to his club’s eight.

Babcock addressed the game while speaking with the Toronto Star's Rosie DiManno...

Weirdly — because this was an ugly sucker, a sleepy-time narcotic — Babcock actually liked much of what he saw, lord help us.

“It was much the game I expected, to tell the truth. I thought we did a lot of good things . . . We had lots of opportunities, lots of looks, and played a pretty good road game.”

Babcock took some umbrage when it was suggested his players were tensing up, squeezing their sticks.

“I don’t know why they’d be squeezing their sticks. To me, we’re a team that feels pretty good about ourselves, been playing pretty well. So I don’t know what that would be about. I thought their goaltender had a good game and I thought they protected him well.”

And Sportsnet's Chris Johnston:

Toronto managed all of six shots through the midway point of the game. They didn’t generate many "Grade A" chances in the push that came afterwards as Wild goalie Alex Stalock made 28 saves to record a shutout against the team that "lit a fire in his belly" by using him only sparingly after a deadline deal in 2016.

It was the first time all season the Leafs were kept off the scoreboard and it came in the middle of a busy stretch that will see them play for a fifth time in seven days when they visit the Detroit Red Wings on Friday.

With Auston Matthews still not even skating because of an undisclosed injury, the Leafs haven’t been nearly as dangerous at 5-on-5. Patrick Marleau and Zach Hyman had chances in succession late in the second period while Tyler Bozak and James van Riemsdyk each got clean looks in the third, but Toronto generally failed to deliver on its plan to push the pace.

"We feel we’ve got to spend way more time in the offensive zone than we have and we’ve got to play harder and we’ve got to play heavier," said Babcock. "That’s on us to do a better job in that area."

...

The Leafs have now played 18 road games – third most in the league – and still have six more remaining before the end of the month. But Babcock is urging his players to stay in the moment.

"If you look at the schedule, it can [wear you out]," he said. "That’s why you don’t. You’ve got to win today and everything’s OK. … When you look at some points in the schedule – if you would have looked at our last 20 games last year, you’d say no chance could we win 14 games. That’s why you don’t worry about that. We’re here today, you’re here today, do a good job today, get up and do it again tomorrow."

It should be noted, however, that the Wild are not in the Red Wings' situation by any means, as noted by NHL.com's Jessi Pierce:

Minnesota (17-11-3) has won five in a row at home and is 7-0-1 in its past eight home games. The Wild are 6-1-0 in their past seven games overall and 12-4-1 in their past 17.

After being a healthy scratch Tuesday, Wild forward Tyler Ennis scored on a wraparound at 18:06 of the first period to make it 1-0.

"It was my first time being a healthy scratch, so obviously it's tough," Ennis said. "Nobody wants to be in the press box. But you've got to be determined, you've got to continue to get better. We got to keep rolling."

Mikael Granlund made it 2-0 at 8:06 of the third when Eric Staal backhanded a pass from behind the Maple Leafs net to Granlund, who scored on a one-timer.

Frederik Andersen made 24 saves for Toronto (20-12-1), which lost its second straight and was shut out for the first time this season. Maple Leafs forward Auston Matthews missed his third straight game with an upper-body injury.

"I think we're just doubting ourselves too much, we're not trusting ourselves with the puck, we're giving it away too much," Toronto forward Mitchell Marner said. "I think everyone in general in here has a lot more skill than we think and we've got to start using that more on the ice and trust each other with the puck. I think when we start doing that it's going to come out on the ice, it's going to show and then we're going to get more opportunities."

The AP's recap will wrap up our survey of the Leafs-Wild affair...

"We're just doubting ourselves too much," center Mitch Marner said. "We're not trusting ourselves with the puck."

The Wild killed all four Maple Leafs power plays, making them 24 for 25 over their last eight home games, when they're 7-0-1. Their home penalty kill (44 of 47) is the best in the league.

"We'll have to get that fixed," Toronto coach Mike Babcock said, "because that's a critical part."

The Maple Leafs were out of rhythm all night, with the Wild smothering their shooting lanes for 21 blocked shots. They had only six shots on goal at the midpoint of the game, after going a span of 28-plus minutes with only three tries on target. Twenty-one attempts simply went wide of the net.

The Wild were more than eager to sacrifice their bodies to help Stalock complete a shutout, given his brief, history with the Maple Leafs that served as the low point of his eight-year professional career.

"I don't think we tried to mention it," Minnesota coach Bruce Boudreau said, "but they all knew about it."

And if you want to watch the highlights from the game, here they are:

If you wish to watch the Leafs' post-game comments, TorontoMapleLeafs.com posted clips of Mitch Marner, Fredrik Andersen, James van Riemsdyk and coach Mike Babcock's post-game remarks.

TorontoMapleLeafs.com's Adam Proteau offers a short Wings scouting report:

Buds look to salvage road trip with a win against Wings Friday. This was Toronto's second loss in a three-game road swing, and they've scored just twice in those two games. Their issues on offence can't be blamed on the absence of centre Auston Matthews, who was missing his third consecutive game. But they have the chance to salvage themselves with a win Friday against the spiralling Red Wings in Detroit. The Wings have only one win in their last 11 games, and the Leafs beat them at Air Canada Centre 6-3 on Oct.18, so this contest provides a shot at salvation before the Buds head home for a special 2 p.m. game Tuesday at ACC against Carolina.

DetroitRedWings.com's Arthur J. Regner also filed a Wings-Leafs scouting report that was written before the Leafs-Wild game, but the Wild's shutout = the stats are still the same, save an extra "L" for the Leafs:

The Leafs have found a way to win and are legitimate Stanley Cup contenders.

They are led by a deep forward corps which includes a mix of youth and veterans. Nazem Kadri is second in scoring behind Matthews with 13 goals, 23 total points and is plus-3.

American James van Riemsdyk leads the Leafs with 15 goals among his 22 points and youngsters William Nylander (five goals, 21 points, plus-11) and Mitch Marner (20 points, including a team-best 18 assists) have been solid.

On the blueline, Morgan Rielly is blossoming into an elite level talent. In 32 games, he tops the Leafs defensemen with 21 points, including four goals, and is logging 21:28 of ice time.

Rielly is joined by Jake Gardiner (15 points, two goals and 13 assists in 32 games) and Nikita Zaitsev, (four goals among his 10 points, plus-9) and he leads the Leafs in ice time, averaging 23:06.

...

Toronto is in a stretch where they're playing eight of nine games on the road through December 31. If you think a road-weary Leafs team may benefit the Red Wings' chances on Friday, you may have to think again.

The Leafs have the fourth-best road record in the NHL at 10-6-1 heading into Thursday's action against the Wild.

10-7-and-1 is still pretty darn good by NHL standards.

The Red Wings didn't practice on Thursday, so what we're left with is a little blunt talk (as it were) from the Detroit News's Ted Kulfan...

Players and fans don’t necessarily like to hear it, for different reasons, but the Red Wings have played well in these recent three losses, in particular.

But, the end result is only two points gained out of six, and that’s doing nothing to help them in the standings.

“We’re doing a lot of good things,” forward Justin Abdelkader said. “(But) we have to find ways to win, and especially divisional games, and not give them any points. We have to find ways to get some wins and get on a win streak here.”

Much was made of this long home stand — which concludes Friday against Toronto — where many Red Wings players said was going to define and determine their season.

Obviously, it hasn’t worked out well, thus far.

“We know it’s going to be tough to get these points back,” Tatar said. “But we’re here, and we can’t give up, and we have to find a way to get these points back.”

And the Free Press's Helene St. James:

At the 20-game mark, the Wings were 10-8-2 with 22 points and in third place in the Atlantic division. Now, at the 31-game mark, they’re 11-13-7 with 29 points and in sixth place. That’s almost exactly where they were last year after 31 games (13-14-4, 30 points, sixth), and that’s even as the Wings have looked improved over last season.

“We have been doing a lot of really good things,” Justin Abdelkader said. “We are right there. We just have to find a way to, whether it’s score that extra goal or keep that extra goal out of our net, and win these games and go on a run.”

 

 

Otherwise, the Detroit News's Bob Wojnowski penned an article discussing the "woes" of Detroit sports teams, and among his comments are the following:

It’s the same with the Wings, who were reluctant to commit to a full tear-down in the midst of their 25-year playoff streak. It’s coming now though, barring an unforeseen turnaround. They’ve lost 10 of 11 (five of the losses in OT) heading into Friday’s game against the Maple Leafs. Jeff Blashill isn’t a proven NHL coach but this is primarily on Holland, in the final year of his contract. In an attempt to stay competitive — at Mike Ilitch’s strong urging — Holland made some poor deals, and now is stuck with an unbalanced roster.

Captain Henrik Zetterberg, 37, goalie Jimmy Howard, 33, and defenseman Niklas Kronwall, 36, sit at one extreme, with Anthony Mantha, Dylan Larkin and Andreas Athanasiou at the other. There’s legitimate promise in the young group, and there should be some patience. But it’s a perfect dreary storm here right now, with all four teams in similar shape, so none can distract fans from the others.

...

Chris Ilitch says the family is keeping the Tigers and Wings and not paring back, but that’s partly semantics. The Tigers’ strategy is to scale down, then build up, but it could take years. A comparable strategy is under way for the Wings, but they haven’t had nearly as many tradeable pieces on affordable contracts.

In that sense, someone like Athanasiou slightly mirrors Fulmer — a growing talent who could tempt a team to make an enticing offer. Holland and Avila can only make those deals if they get tremendous value in return, and it has to be with a plan in mind, not desperation in the air.

Also, WDIV posted a video in which Wings executive Tom Wilson reminds fans that the BidOnTheJoe.com website's memorabilia auction ends Saturday.

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Comments

PierreC's avatar

Normally it should be Mrazek in goal but there is never anything normal with this coaching staff so…

I cant wait for the moment when this team turns the page and favor the youths before the vets. It has to come normally, AA,Mantha, Larks MUST be on the ice on every critical situations, even if they are having a bad games and even worst floating. Right now on key situation Blashill looks at Z, Kroner, Helm, Glen first, this mentality needs to stop now NOW.

Posted by PierreC from Montreal, Canada on 12/15/17 at 09:33 AM ET

duhduhduh's avatar

Question before the house is: will this be the first time LCA has a full lower bowl (and not with Wings fans)?

Posted by duhduhduh on 12/15/17 at 09:51 AM ET

Avatar

Pierre I said that yesterday. Glendening was terrible in the final minutes last game. So let’s see consequences. Next time we have a 1-goal lead with a minute to go…send out Larkin, Mantha, AA. Prove that you can handle this. Maybe even score an empty netter and finish this. That’s how players grow.

But others here mocked that idea…

Posted by fatsavage on 12/15/17 at 10:24 AM ET

Avatar

I’d really like to see Larkin and AA deployed more frequently in shutdown situations.  I’m not so sure about Mantha, I think that’s putting a round peg in a square hole.  I don’t think he’s ever going to be a stellar defensive player, and that’s ok based on his other skills.

Posted by Steve1306 on 12/15/17 at 11:01 AM ET

Colin's avatar

Pierre I said that yesterday. Glendening was terrible in the final minutes last game. So let’s see consequences. Next time we have a 1-goal lead with a minute to go…send out Larkin, Mantha, AA. Prove that you can handle this. Maybe even score an empty netter and finish this. That’s how players grow.

But others here mocked that idea…

Posted by fatsavage on 12/15/17 at 09:24 AM ET

I love that idea.

If a player is coasting, give him someone to chase. The better that player is the harder your guy will have to chase. It’s a good teaching moment and Mantha has the ability to do it.

Larkin makes some mistakes still but I think we are well past the point where he should be sheltered at center. It’s time we put him up against other 1Cs. It’s not like Zetterberg or Nielsen are producing in that position.

AA is a bit of a question mark for me. Though I personally think he should be our 3C right now.

Posted by Colin from Ken Holland's new yacht, "Incompetence" on 12/15/17 at 11:14 AM ET

Avatar

I’d really like to see Larkin and AA deployed more frequently in shutdown situations.  I’m not so sure about Mantha, I think that’s putting a round peg in a square hole.  I don’t think he’s ever going to be a stellar defensive player, and that’s ok based on his other skills.

Posted by Steve1306 on 12/15/17 at 10:01 AM ET

Agree. Mantha will probably never fit that role. But the mere act in showing some confidence in these young players to give it a go can help them progress. No different than being down a goal in the final minute. How about we call a time out, then send out Larkin, AA, Mantha, Frk, Jensen, and Mike Green. Go tie up the game guys. Zee, Abby, Kronwall, Nyquist, Tatar will cheer from the bench this time.

What are we afraid of? They fail? Yeah, they might. So that becomes a teachable moment for them. And we squander 2 points in the standings. Oh wait, Kenny still thinks we are 2% away from being back in the mix.

Posted by fatsavage on 12/15/17 at 11:15 AM ET

TreKronor's avatar

Weirdly — because this was an ugly sucker, a sleepy-time narcotic — Babcock actually liked much of what he saw, lord help us.

“It was much the game I expected, to tell the truth. I thought we did a lot of good things . . . We had lots of opportunities, lots of looks, and played a pretty good road game.”

Sounds like the same criticisms in both cities these days.

Posted by TreKronor on 12/15/17 at 12:21 PM ET

Avatar

The arena was so empty and quiet on Wednesday that it was scary. The saddest part of watching our team now is Z. I almost want to cry when I see what happened to our beloved captain. Besides looking slow/injured, his decision making and constant turnovers make me cringe.

Posted by VPalmer on 12/15/17 at 01:13 PM ET

Hootinani's avatar

The arena was so empty and quiet on Wednesday that it was scary. The saddest part of watching our team now is Z. I almost want to cry when I see what happened to our beloved captain. Besides looking slow/injured, his decision making and constant turnovers make me cringe.

Posted by VPalmer on 12/15/17 at 12:13 PM ET

I think he gave everything he had last season to keep the streak alive, which unfortunately didnt work out for him. And to be fair its time for others to take the teams reigns, but nobody is stepping up. Hopefully Larkin will get there eventually.

Posted by Hootinani from the parade following Babs out of town on 12/15/17 at 03:07 PM ET

Colin's avatar

Posted by Hootinani from the parade following Babs out of town on 12/15/17 at 02:07 PM ET

I think Larkin is right on the cusp of that.

Posted by Colin from Ken Holland's new yacht, "Incompetence" on 12/15/17 at 04:50 PM ET

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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.