Red Sexy Maple Leafs Disperse offence around in win over Detroit

The Toronto Maple Leafs may have their shaky moments but they keep passing the tests.

Their most recent hurdle was that the first set of back-to-back, street and home games of the NHL season. The Leafs sagged a couple of days Wednesday night, as teams do in these conditions, but always bounced back and came away with a 6-3 win over the Detroit Red Wings in the Air Canada Centre.

Combined with Tuesday night’s 2-0 win over the Washington Capitals, the Leafs have a 6-1 record and proceeded beyond the Tampa Bay Lightning into first place in the Atlantic Division with 12 points. They’re also first overall in the NHL.

The Leafs have a three-game winning streak going but what’s important for them is that they were able to pull out a win in the second of back-to-back games. Last year, losing those second matches, once the legs are somewhat heavier, was a custom for the Leafs. In 13 back-to-back sets, the Leafs lost the next game nine times.

“We can definitely be a lot better but when we are coming out with two things in matches such as these, in back-to-backs, particularly our progress coming from this past year in these kinds of games is pretty optimistic,” said Leafs center Auston Matthews, who scored a stunning goal in the first period, his sixth in seven games.

Nazem Kadri, Zach Hyman, Matthews, Connor Brown, Morgan Rielly and William Nylander scored for the Leafs, as they spread the offence around on the top 3 lines. Henrik Zetterberg, Tomas Tatar and Jonathan Ericsson had the Detroit goals.

The majority of the breaks in the action Wednesday night were tributes to Gord Downie, who died Tuesday night of brain cancer at age 53. The front man for The Tragically Hip had a strong link with the Leafs, as a result of his tune Fifty-Mission Cap, which celebrated Leafs defenceman Bill Barilko. He, too, died before his time and Barilko’s banner at the ACC rafters was reduced in tribute to Downie.

But not everybody on the team was comfortable with Downie’s music. Like the superbly hockey-obsessed Leafs coach Mike Babcock. He started out nicely enough attempting to answer the obligatory Downie query: “I do not know enough. Obviously, I know there is a tie there with the Leafs. It is tragic.”

However, when asked if he really was a Hip fan, Babcock had to acknowledge the only musician he’s really aware of is Bob Seger. That was because he fulfilled with the Detroit native throughout his days as coach of the Red Wings.

“I know I am a fan of music,” Babcock said. “I don’t know any musicians except Bob Seger. What is that?”

Also getting a tribute to the scoreboard video screen was Leafs forward Patrick Marleau. Wednesday’s game marked number 1,500 for Marleau from the NHL, 1,493 of them coming from the use of the San Jose Sharks.

“Just surrounded myself with some fantastic people, having people in the rink and away from the racket which are great at their job, keeping you healthy,” Marleau, 37, said ahead of the match when he was asked about the key to his longevity. But so far as the landmark went, he said, “It is wonderful to have. Obviously I am more focused on playing the game{}”

The game, like a few Leafs games so far this year was on the wonky side. But the wonks were supplied by the Red Wing goaltenders, at least in the early going.

Jimmy Howard, the Wings’ starter, lasted 15 minutes, 46 seconds before he was awarded the hook by head coach Jeff Blashill. When Howard allowed in his third goal on four shots, though it was a wonder bynbsp; Matthews, who drew Wings defenceman Trevor Daley toward him with a stutter step and then used him as a display and fired the puck between his legs, he was done for the evening.

And Matthews knew what he was doing all the way about the target, which is why he’s a special player. ” [I] was attempting to use him as a screen and take him around or through his toes or something, simply to get it to the internet,” Matthews said. “It is tough for a goalie to read, particularly when its moving through [the defenceman’s] feet like that to find the angle.”

At that stage, the Leafs had a 3-1 lead, as Kadri and Hyman scored before Matthews. However, it was really the Red Wings who had the upper hand in the play to there, thus the mere four shots from 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 believe we were really satisfied with the way we played at the first,” Rielly said. “They came out and controlled the vast majority of the play. We have got plenty of guys who can put the puck in the internet. When that occurs early on, particularly in the second of back-to-backs, [we] get the impression 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 good outing even though he looked bad on the first Detroit goal, a wraparound by Zetterberg that saw him stuck into the other goal post.

But soon after Zetterberg’s goal, McElhinney stretched out to earn a terrific pad save on Red Wings ahead Anthony Mantha. That may have been his most important save of the night, as a target there could have tied the score. Instead, the Leafs went on to score twice in 42 minutes to start a three-goal lead.

“We have a whole lot of faith in him, he is a fantastic pro,” Rielly said of McElhinney. “He is always ready and I believe when you look at the way he played at the end of last year you know we have all the reasons in the world to have confidence in him.”

Courtesy: The Globe And Mail