Riding major contributions from the bottom six forward groupings, the Toronto Maple Leafs snapped their early three-game losing skid in Detroit and on the big stage Saturday night, beating the Red Wings 5-2.
The Maple Leafs will host the struggling Minnesota Wild on Tuesday after some Thanksgiving eatin’.
First though, four points:
First Point: Who’s earning their keep?
Every once in a while you need the supporting cast to step up and carry the day offensively. Saturday night against the Wings, and while coming off a humbling experience last time out in a loss to the divisional juggernaut Tampa Bay Lightning, the onus probably shouldn’t have landed on Toronto’s depth.
And yet it did.
With Auston Matthews, John Tavares, Mitch Marner and William Nylander for the most part silent in Detroit, the Maple Leafs’ third and fourth lines stepped up to avoid the team potentially suffering a fourth consecutive loss, claiming all five goals in the victory.
All three members of the third line scored, but it was actually the fourth unit that stood out the most. They dominated in possession, with Frederik Gauthier leading the club at 72 percent in 11 even-strength minutes (he had the most shots and high-danger looks, too) while the taxi squad of Nick Shore and Dymtro Timashov combined for four points.
Shore answered the early icebreaker from Jacob De La Rose with a tremendous backhand finish after Timashov hunted down Dennis Cholowski with a relentless forecheck that will surely endear him to coach Mike Babcock.
Later, Timashov demonstrated some impressive attacking instinct and vision in the offensive zone, waiting for Jake Muzzin to arrive in space to deposit the back-breaker late on a threaded feed.
Muzzin for Leafs they lead 3-2 pic.twitter.com/FUbj8wS0Ll— Right Wing, Shoots Left 🍷🐓🏒🥅🌈 (@HILITINGHOCKEY) October 13, 2019
With three games apiece now between the tandems of Shore and Timashov as well as the idle Jason Spezza and Nic Petan, what we saw tonight was the strongest among statement performances from the fourth line to date.
If chosen by merit, the unit should remain as constructed Tuesday versus the Minnesota Wild.
Second Point: Lob City
Once Zach Hyman returns, and Kasperi Kapanen does presumably return to right wing on the third line, there will be far worse options for Alexander Kerfoot than turning and lobbing the puck into empty space when the walls are quickly closing in on him with possession in the defensive zone.
Between Kapanen and Ilya Mikheyev, Kerfoot will have maybe two of the fastest straight-line skaters on the team, and two linemates with speed that would compare favourably around the league, riding shotgun.
For either, a soft bounce in neutral ice will be a nightmare for opposing defenders, as Kapanen and Mikheyev illustrated late in the second period versus Detroit.
Ilya Mikheyev! Great speed to chase down the loose puck and beat Howard. 2-1. pic.twitter.com/O0c170kAS4— Flintor (@TheFlintor) October 13, 2019
Creating offensive opportunities and problems for opposing power-play specialists, Mikheyev’s speed has been the most obvious and intriguing attribute on display through an impressive start to his NHL career.
Jake Muzzin on Ilya Mikheyev: "We saw a great example tonight of what he's capable of: good speed, hard on the puck, hard worker, smart. Great for us. Great teammate."— Mark Masters (@markhmasters) October 13, 2019
Third Point: Mean-ish
At six-foot-five and 225 pounds, Anthony Mantha is built unlike most team leaders in scoring.
Regardless, it still does say more about the Maple Leafs than it does the Red Wings that an opposition’s leading scorer engaged in a running feud with the unequivocally toughest and meanest player in a white and blue sweater throughout Saturday’s game.
In the end it was mostly just a lot of talking between Jake Muzzin and Mantha, with one notable clash of shoulders late. But while I still maintain that if you’re going to dress one player with the ability to teach an opponent a lesson if needed, it should be a player as talented and as valuable as Muzzin. It wasn’t like Mantha felt any need to play shorter than that six-foot-five frame would allow.
Fourth Point: Help yourself, Freddie
Allowing less than three goals for just the second time in five starts, “October Freddy” took a decent-sized step forward versus the Wings, or at least played well enough to begin to forget his outing against the Lightning.
Somewhat surprisingly, Andersen hasn’t seen more than 30 shots yet in a start — but it has been far from perfect in front of him. So before his teammates make things easier on him, he should do that for himself.
With two bad decisions while playing (or trying to play) the puck leading directly to goals already — once in Columbus and then in garbage time versus Tampa Bay — and what looked like a miscue playing the puck that led to a goal versus the Senators in the opener as well, on Saturday Andersen basically threw a literal pizza up the middle at Little Caesers Arena.
Missing Kerfoot badly in the middle, the attempted pass landed on the stick of defenseman Mike Green, who immediately threw it toward net from the blue line, only to see it knocked down.
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