Following a slew of postponements, the Toronto Maple Leafs are getting back in a groove.
They bring a two-game winning streak into their road game against the Detroit Red Wings on Saturday. Toronto prevailed 4-3 in a shootout against the visiting Anaheim Ducks on Wednesday after defeating the host New York Islanders 3-1 last Saturday.
Jason Spezza and Auston Matthews converted on their shootout attempts to beat the Ducks.
“I thought we did a lot of good things, but we found ourselves 3-3 going into overtime in a game we felt we outplayed them and dominated,” Matthews said. “It’s little things, lucky bounces. It doesn’t matter, though. We’ve got to play until that final whistle.
“It took a little extra time in going to a shootout, but it’s good we’re walking away with the two points.”
The Leafs have played only nine games since Dec. 14 amid nine postponements. They were 4-2-1 during that span prior to the latest two victories.
Toronto coach Sheldon Keefe tinkered with his lines, as his top four scoring forwards — Matthews, Mitchell Marner, John Tavares and William Nylander — were sprinkled around on three lines. Keefe plans to keep that approach for the time being.
“I really liked the flexibility, the ability to move things around,” he said. “That worked out the way I planned it in terms of getting Nylander extra shifts and getting Matthews extra shifts. In terms of the chemistry of the group, the flow, it’s going to take some time. We can’t assess that after one game.”
The most effective combinations against the Ducks came on the power play, as Marner, Nylander and Tavares all scored with the man advantage. Marner carries a four-game goal-scoring streak into the Saturday contest.
Maple Leafs defenseman Jake Muzzin could return after missing the past three games due to concussion protocol. He returned to practice this week.
“The progress has been steady,” Keefe said. “He’s feeling good.”
Muzzin had a goal and an assist in Toronto’s 5-4 home win over Detroit on Oct. 30. The teams have another matchup in Detroit scheduled for Feb. 26.
The Red Wings are heading into the second game of a back-to-back set. They collected a 3-2 shootout victory over the host Pittsburgh Penguins on Friday, snapping a three-game losing streak (0-2-1). Detroit yielded a season-high eight goals to the visiting Chicago Blackhawks two nights earlier.
“It was a good answer by our guys,” Red Wings coach Jeff Blashill said. “We had a tough meeting the other day and we went out and practiced. It wasn’t a super hard practice, but there was a mentality to it. I thought our guys did a real good job of showing up and playing the right way.”
Givani Smith and Filip Zadina had the Red Wings’ regulation goals on Friday, and Lucas Raymond was the only player to score during the shootout.
“We did a lot of things that you have to do to beat good teams or have a chance to beat good teams and to win on the road,” Blashill said. “We did a much better job of managing the puck.
“Certainly we weren’t perfect. They had a lot of chances and they’re a really good team, but I thought we did a real good job of that. And also we kept our composure when they scored on the first shift in the third period.”
Red Wings goaltender Calvin Pickard recorded his first victory in his second game of the season, stopping 36 of 38 shots. No. 1 goaltender Alex Nedeljkovic will play on Saturday.
–Field Level Media