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Preview: Maple Leafs at Red Wings

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A mid-week road tilt vs the most boring team in the NHL has to be taken seriously these days.

Toronto Maple Leafs v Arizona Coyotes
Get some goals, JT.
Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Toronto Maple Leafs at Detroit Red Wings: 7:00 p.m.
Watch on: Sportsnet 1, SNE, SNO, and Fox-Sports Detroit

Opponent’s site: Winging it in Motown

The first day of practice at home in Toronto this week with Sheldon Keefe in charge was a bit of a media zoo for all sorts of reasons. Day two, yesterday, might have been expected to be the beginning of something more like a routine, but routine was not on the menu.

The practice sessions both days were reported to include a lot of extra coaches and consultants, and yesterday’s featured a recent innovation at Marlies practices, music during some of the action.

The lines were almost the same as from the last game, however:

Maple Leafs Lines

Andreas Johnsson - Auston Matthews - William Nylander
Ilya Mikheyev - John Tavares - Zach Hyman
Nic Petan - Jason Spezza - Kasperi Kapanen
Pierre Engvall - Frederik Gauthier - Dmytro Timashov

Morgan Rielly - Cody Ceci
Jake Muzzin - Justin Holl
Travis Dermott - Tyson Barrie

Frederik Andersen
Michael Hutchinson

Red Wings Lines

As of yesterday on Dailyfaceoff

Tyler Bertuzzi - Dylan Larkin - Robby Fabbri
Darren Helm - Valtteri Filppula - Filip Zadina
Luke Glendening - Frans Nielsen - Andreas Athanasiou
Taro Hirose - Christoffer Ehn - Brendan Perlini

Patrik Nemeth - Filip Hronek
Dennis Cholowski - Mike Green
Jonathan Ericsson - Madison Bowey

Jonathan Bernier
Jimmy Howard

Detroit lines are unconfirmed, and it’s assumed that Howard will get the start for them, but that is also not certain. Update: Lance Hornby is reporting that Bernier gets the start.

While the Maple Leafs called up Michael Hutchinson, we assume Andersen will start this game. The Buffalo games are yet to be decided. Sheldon Keefe explained his thinking here:

The Leafs now put all their post practice scrums together in one video, so go to the ending section for Keefe. His bottom line is Hutchinson has played recently, and he deserves another chance.

Alexander Kerfoot is suspended and will miss this game as well as the first Buffalo game. There does not appear to be any intention to make additions to the roster to cover his absence.

The defence pairings are unchanged from the last game, with Tyson Barrie playing on the third pair. He played less than 14 minutes at five-on-five last game, with Travis Dermott playing just over 12. Barrie is, however, still listed in a spot normally taken by a forward on the first power play unit. That unit is configured as:

John Tavares - net front
Barrie - William Nylander - Auston Matthews
Morgan Rielly

If you imagine fellow right-shooter Mitch Marner will come in where Barrie is, this is a return to the early-season switch of Matthews and Marner to opposite sides from last year’s structure. That was briefly swapped back to Matthews on the left, Marner on the right before Marner’s injury and the coaching change.

In the most recent game, Matthews definitely played on the right wing side for all his power play time, and Barrie would not seem to be a defender to anyone watching who didn’t know he was. He lined up as a forward on most faceoffs, and was not falling back to recover the puck in support of Rielly; that was Matthews’ job. We’ve seen this power play in operation for so little time, it’s impossible to have much of an opinion on it, and the setup seems to be so very much part of the problem that, when it works, the power play looks better, and it’s tempting to just leave it at that. I’m not all that convinced by Nylander as the bumper or Matthews on the right circle, however.

The second unit is:

Andreas Johnsson
Kasperi Kapanen - Nic Petan - Jason Spezza
Jake Muzzin

Mark Masters also reported that Johnsson and Kapanen were working on the PK units as well, which might be interesting.

The Red Wings have some young players that are good, and they are playing them a lot more than they used to, but their defence corps makes ours look like stars, and they are the last place team in the NHL for good reasons. Jimmy Howard was great last year, and is struggling a lot this year, while Frederik Andersen has been a rock for most of the season.

More updates on the defence side:

For all of that it’s still a road game for a team in the most chaotic portion of a transition to a new coach and a new system. No matter how happy the players are, cheerfulness can’t substitute for defensive structure. And the Leafs can’t take any time off to regroup. They have to do that while playing at their peak, so no pressure, guys.

Win this one. You can, you should, and if you play like you mean to, you just might.