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Preview: Maple Leafs @ Red Wings

It’s reverse retro for the Wings. And in a reverse of their recent past, they’re having a good season so far.

Detroit Red Wings v Toronto Maple Leafs
The oldest photo we have of these two teams - Referee Red Storey (1918 - 2006) gets in between Gordie Howe of the Detroit Red Wings and Ted Kennedy of the Toronto Maple Leafs during a game, 1950s.
Photo by Bruce Bennett Studios via Getty Images Studios/Getty Images

Toronto Maple Leafs @ Detroit Red Wings
07:00 PM at Little Caesars Arena
Watch on: TVAS, SN, BSDET

Opponent’s Site: Winging It In Motown

The Leafs last game was an away game on November 26 against the Pittsburgh Penguins, which Toronto won by a score of 4-1. The Leafs have a record of 13-5-5 so far.

The Detroit Red Wings last played at home on November 25 against the Arizona Coyotes. The Red Wings won by a score of 4-3, and their current league record is 11-5-4.

Do you notice that win/loss record for each team? The Wings have played three fewer games, so they’ve had fewer chances to fail, but their Points % has been mirroring the Leafs through most of the season so far.

If you’re warming your heart with the win/loss record of the Leafs as proof everything is wonderful, it takes some mental contortion to decide that Detroit, meanwhile, is bad, and that’s all fake numbers. The standings after 20 or so games aren’t reliable indicators of team strength. Well, really, they never truly are reliable, but they will eventually do the broad sorting of good bad for us.

Toronto vs Detroit

Toronto Stat Detroit
Toronto Stat Detroit
67.4 - 6th Points % - Ranking 65.0 - 9th
3 - 18th Goals/Game - Ranking 3.25 - 14th
2.565 - 4th Goals Against/Game - Ranking 3 - 13th
24.3 - 9th Power Play% - Ranking 23.3 - 11th
78.4 - 17th Penalty Kill% - Ranking 82.0 - 6th
9.8 - 17th Team Sh% - Ranking 11.1 - 6th
0.910 - 7th Team Sv% - Ranking 0.904 - 10th
John Tavares, William Nylander - 12 Most Goals (NST) Dominik Kubalik, Dylan Larkin - 9
Mitchell Marner - 27 Most Points (NST) Dylan Larkin - 23
Michael Bunting - 32 Most PIM (NST) Michael Rasmussen - 21
Morgan Rielly - 23 TOI Leader (NST) Moritz Seider - 22.98

Them

Are Detroit any good? They have a positive goal differential, something that usually reliably tells you if a team is a playoff team or not. Nine of their 11 wins are in regulation, so it isn’t obviously one-goal game goalie heroics, but they are winning with a mediocre goals against and goals for that just shades to positive on the differential.

For goalies with at least 5 games played (using Moneypuck.com Goals Saved Above Expected per 60), Alex Nedelkovic is the second worst goalie in the NHL out of 67 with -1.5. Ville Husso is 28th from the top, so a poor starter/excellent backup with 0.141, so far. Detroit ain’t doing it with their goalies.

At five-on-five, the Red Wings are 28th in Corsi with 45%, which counts as very bad this year, with the worst team, Chicago, at 40%. Their Expected Goals are better, and move them to 24th with 47%, just below the mediocre middle range. Their Goals For % is 49, so either they have very talented shooters or it’s luck, because we know they don’t have hot goalies. They have good-ish Save %, which tells you virtually nothing about goaltending, and their Shooting % is very high, sixth in the NHL overall and at five-on-five.

They are allowing very little in terms of Expected Goals Against, and producing very poor offence at five-on-five. This is starting to really seem like shooting luck/Dylan Larkin being good. Dominik Kubalik, who the Wings are playing with Larkin, has a Shooting % of 16.7, and that’s not all hot air that’s going to vanish. He’s a good shooter on his career, so his usage as a guy whose job is to just score on their top line is very smart. And it’s working. But most of the team is also on a shooting heater, and that seems unlikely to last for everyone.

Detroit has a modestly good power play relying on their shooters, but those skills are not translating to good offence beyond that shooting success. If they had good offence, they’d be a real playoff team, but the lineup of today doesn’t quite have it. Maybe next year, but they’re going to look fabulous tonight:

Lines

Source: Ansar Khan via Daily Faceoff

Lines are from their last game.

Dominik Kubalik - Dylan Larkin - David Perron
Tyler Bertuzzi - Andrew Copp - Lucas Raymond
Adam Erne - Michael Rasmussen - Oskar Sundqvist
Jonatan Berggren - Joe Veleno - Pius Suter

Ben Chiarot - Moritz Seider
Olli Maatta - Filip Hronek
Jake Walman - Jordan Oesterle

Ville Husso - confirmed starter
Alex Nedeljkovic

Us

And the Leafs? One thing is looking up, at least. Maybe even two. Ilya Samsonov is going to play again soon. And the shots are turning into goals a little more often.

In the first 11 games of the season vs the most recent 12, the Leafs had 358 and 349 Shots on Goal respectively. From that they got 32 and 37 goals. A subtle improvement, but it moves the Shooting % from 8.9 (bad) to 10.6 (good). The Leafs don’t really have the horses to shoot the lights out, so they rely on their overall offensive quality, which... to be honest, has gotten worse, so has the defensive results.

But, but, but they’ve won so much!!! Yeah, because in any 10, 11, 12 game stretch almost anything can happen and variance, goalie performance and strength of competition hold sway. But make no mistake, most of their games where they’ve opened the door wide defensively have been in the last few weeks as one after another defender has left the building.

Lines

Lines are from last game, we’ll update you at gametime.

Michael Bunting - Auston Matthews - William Nylander
Calle Järnkrok - John Tavares - Mitch Marner
Alex Kerfoot - Pontus Holmberg - Pierre Engvall
Zach Aston-Reese - David Kämpf - Denis Malgin

Mark Giordano - Justin Holl
Rasmus Sandin - Timothy Liljegren
Victor Mete - Mac Hollowell

Matt Murray
Erik Källgren

The Game

This trick of playing Mark Giordano and Justin Holl as the top pair is going to explode in everyone’s face at some point. It may not be today. If it doesn’t, and the goalie is strong, the Leafs can win this. But facing a team that is simultaneously bad at offence but shooting lucky is always a little weird. You never know what’s going to happen.

Go Leafs Go!