After seven and eight days off respectively, the Toronto Maple Leafs and Detroit Red Wings return to game action on Red Kelly Night in Detroit in what will also mark Jake Muzzin’s debut as a Leaf (7:30 p.m, TSN4).
A benefit of the timing of the Muzzin trade is that he was acquired a full month before the trade deadline, giving him and the team more runway to get him acclimated and comfortable before the playoffs. It might take some time and patience before Muzzin’s usage and fit is settled, but at the end of the day, it will make this team’s defense core much capable of stacking up against the stiff competition at the top of the Eastern Conference.
The tricky aspect of deciding who will play with who post-Muzzin trade is, of course, handedness. Rielly, in my view, is a good candidate to play his off-side — and it looks like he’ll start there with Muzzin on the left, but it could change over time, as Babcock mentioned the point Nik Lidstrom made about putting the most skilled player on the side most conducive to making plays on his forehand. The fluidity of Rielly’s game and his elite skating ability is likely more suited to the awkwardness that comes with playing the off side. Without the puck, defending zone entries is one of the factors that becomes more difficult when playing the off-side, but it’s not Rielly’s strong suit anyway (bottom third of the league in Breakups/60 since 2016).
Dermott should also be in consideration to move up on his off-side — having played there for the Marlies quite a bit — but it’s not likely a solution that’s tenable to Babcock with his desire to bring Dermott along slowly — now paired off with a veteran in Ron Hainsey — and his seeming lack of trust in the sophomore’s defensive game. In all likelihood, he will keep Rielly-Muzzin-Gardiner-Zaitsev as the top four the rest of the way, barring injury.
As for the matchup tonight, both the Leafs and Red Wings have made strides in their ability to control the puck as the season has moved on. Both teams are 4-6-0 in their last ten games but have done well to stay on the right side of shot and chance share. Looking at their 10-game shot attempt trends, both teams are heading in the right direction:
Some of the numbers have to do with the fact that the Wings score first rarely, but they generally hang around in games, as the Leafs have seen in the three games of the season series so far (one 5-3 win, one overtime loss, one overtime win). The Wings dynamic duo on the top line, Dylan Larkin and Gustav Nyquist, both have nine points in their last 10 games in what should be a solid first test for the Leafs new matchup pair in Rielly-Muzzin.
In net, Jimmy Howard gets the start, with a 3-2-0 record in his last five starts and a save percentage of .905 in those games, while Frederik Andersen goes for the Leafs.
Game Day Quotes
Mike Babcock on the adjustment period for Muzzin:
Anytime you’ve been traded, you’re wife’s pregnant, you’ve been in the same spot for a long time, won two cups — I think there’s an adjustment period for sure. The biggest thing we’re going to do is not overload him. He’s just going to go out there and play. I think he’ll find the game even easier than practices just because there’s no much swirling around. Just get out there and do what you do.
Babcock on what’s in store for Igor Ozhiganov after the Muzzin trade:
Right now, he’s gone from six to seven. Knock on wood, you’d like to stay healthy all the time, but now he goes to work improving his game. I think it’s actually a good opportunity for him right now. He’s been off to a good start. He’s played well for us. We like him. He’s a big body, defends well, is not in much against, and can really pass the puck. He’s just got to keep working on his game.
Muzzin on his debut:
I feel good. A little nervous, a little excited. This is new for me, I’ve never been traded before or anything like that, so this is new. I’m excited to see how it plays out.
There’s no need to rush it and get overly excited. I’ve been around a little, but hopefully, I can understand the systems quickly and stuff like that. In saying that, I am excited. This is a very good team and I’m happy to be along.
Toronto Maple Leafs Projected Lines
#12 Patrick Marleau – #34 Auston Matthews – #16 Mitch Marner
#11 Zach Hyman – #91 John Tavares – #24 Kasperi Kapanen
#28 Connor Brown – #43 Nazem Kadri – #29 William Nylander
#26 Par Lindholm – #33 Frederik Gauthier – #18 Andreas Johnsson
#8 Jake Muzzin – #44 Morgan Rielly
#51 Jake Gardiner – #22 Nikita Zaitsev
#23 Travis Dermott – #2 Ron Hainsey
#31 Frederik Andersen
#40 Garret Sparks
Injured: Tyler Ennis (broken ankle)
Scratched: Justin Holl, Martin Marincin, Igor Ozhiganov
Detroit Red Wings Projected Lines
#8 Justin Abdelkader – #71 Dylan Larkin – #14 Gustav Nyquist
#26 Thomas Vanek – #51 Frans Nielsen – #39 Anthony Mantha
#71 Andreas Athanasiou – #41 Luke Glendening – #43 Darren Helm
#70 Christoffer Ehn – #61 Jacob de La Rose – #42 Martin Frk
#55 Niklas Kronwall – #25 Mike Green
#65 Danny DeKeyser – #3 Nick Jensen
#52 Jonathan Ericsson – #21 Dennis Cholowski
#35 Jimmy Howard
#45 Jonathan Bernier
Injured: Tyler Bertuzzi, Evgeny Svechnikov, Micheal Rasmussen