Goaltender Petr Mrazek will return from injury against his former team and Justin Holl will watch from the press box in the Maple Leafs’ first meeting against an American divisional rival since March of 2020 tonight on Hockey Night in Canada (7 p.m. EST, Sportsnet/CBC).

There are some early signs that the Detroit Red Wings, who have collected points in six of eight games, are a team that’s coming together as a much more competitive outfit this season. Currently top 10 in expected Goals and shot share (albeit much lower in shot attempt share), how hard the Wings are competing came through loud and clear last night when this rousing defensive sequence was followed by a late goal from Pius Suter a few minutes later to force overtime against the 8-0-0 Florida Panthers:

The integration of recent top-10 picks Lucas Raymond (eight points in eight games) and Moritz Seider (seven points in eight games off the blue line) has breathed new life into the lineup, in addition to stability in net with Thomas Greiss (now in tandem with Alex Nedeljokvic) and a hot start to the season offensively from Tyler Bertuzzi (six goals, nine points in seven games), who will not play tonight due to a vaccination status that prevents him from crossing the border.

The Leafs have given up far too many quality looks of late to the other team’s top offensive threats with Muzzin-Holl on the ice, a once-highly-dependable pairing that has struggled with opponents getting in behind them free and clear either due to turnovers or just flat out getting beat in one-on-one situations. Keefe will turn to a veteran pairing of Muzzin-Brodie as a solution tonight up against the Dylan Larkin – Lucas Raymond line, which has been a handful for the opposition in the first few weeks of the season with its speed and skill, albeit they will have Robby Fabbri on their left wing in place of Bertuzzi tonight.

On the Leafs‘ blue line, Holl will sit out as a healthy scratch tonight in an attempt to reset his game via the perspective of the press box, which would’ve been inconceivable before the season started given how many important minutes he has played against top competition under Keefe.

With Brodie and Morgan Rielly split up, Travis Dermott will join the Leafs‘ new $60 million man in what will be a big opportunity to play expanded minutes inside the top four on the right side of the ice.

Dermott’s opportunities to grow his responsibility within this Leafs defense corps have been limited outside of a few short runs in the top four next to Justin Holl when Jake Muzzin has been out. He has not played a role on either side of special teams this season and has averaged just 13:39 per night. Holl’s underperformance has provided a golden chance for Dermott to make his case for a bigger role if he can take steady shifts on the right side inside the top four. Keefe was clear this morning that there have been no guarantees that Holl will re-enter the fold right away and that open competition would be a welcome development.

The key for Dermott will be not overextending himself, with fellow lefty-who-plays-his-offside in TJ Brodie (or the 2020-21 version of him) as his model in terms of complementing Rielly’s game effectively — i.e. provide a situationally-aware defensive conscience, gap up well off the rush, solid stick-on-puck defending, take care of your own net, and move the puck safely.

The Leafs will catch the Wings tired in the second half of a back-to-back after a hard-fought 64-minute contest against Florida last night. Alex Nedeljokvic started last night’s overtime loss, which means the Leafs will face Thomas Greiss — off to a 3-1-0 start with a .917 save percentage — at the other end opposite Petr Mrazek.


Game Day Quotes

Sheldon Keefe on the competitiveness of the Red Wings early in the season;

There is going to be no surprise for us. We have been watching closely. They are full marks for the results that they have had to date. They are in every game. They are carrying play in a lot of games. They are getting their share of scoring chances. They just seem like they’re a committed group that is playing hard, wants to have a great season, and wants to push to win and compete in games.

It has been flying around that sequence they had last night. We used it with our group this morning just as a really quick snapshot of the type of mindset that Detroit has in terms of how they play — a ton of urgency, and they are competing at a very high level early in the season. They are not going to make it easy on us.

Keefe on the process of helping Jake Muzzin get his season back on track:

For a guy who has been so good for so long, you have confidence he is going to find it. It is just talking through it, reassuring him, pushing him, challenging him. He doesn’t need too much of that because he is a very self-aware guy and takes a lot of pride in his game and the role that he plays for us.

Part of it is just allowing some time to sort some things out, pointing some things out, giving him some guidance, and using some time we have in practice away from games to address the things that we think can help him.

Keefe on the team’s need to improve defensively in five-man units:

Our forwards have to help out the cause here. That is a big piece. When we looked at the improvements we made last season defensively, our D for sure played a great role in that, but our forwards were contributing greatly. Any team that defends well does it in groups of five.

We have some defensemen that haven’t played to the level we would like them to be or have come to expect, but at the same time, they don’t have the same level of support, either. We have to get far more connected as a team defensively.

Keefe on the decision to sit Justin Holl and provide Dermott more opportunity:

We want to give [Dermott] an opportunity. Justin Holl is not going to play tonight, and he is a guy who is an important part of our team. We feel like taking a step back today made more sense to just give him yesterday’s practice and today to clear his head and get some work in. As opposed to reducing his role and his minutes, we thought, “Let’s shock the system a little bit here and get him some time.” But we need to build him back up. He is an important player for us and has played at a really high level.

As a result, we have moved things around. Part of it is Holl’s situation and part of it is getting different looks and chemistry in the back. We are just going to watch and see how it goes, whether it is a one-game thing or if we stick with it.

I haven’t made any guarantees to Hollsy in terms of whether he is going to come back in the next game. We are just going to watch and play. If this turns into a healthy competition on our backend, that will be good for everybody.


Toronto Maple Leafs Projected Lines

Forwards
#58 Michael Bunting – #34 Auston Matthews – #88 William Nylander
#15 Alex Kerfoot – #91 John Tavares – #16 Mitch Marner
#47 Pierre Engvall – #64 David Kampf – #25 Ondrej Kase
#20 Nick Ritchie – #19 Jason Spezza – #24 Wayne Simmonds

Defensemen
#44 Morgan Rielly – #23 Travis Dermott
#8 Jake Muzzin – #78 TJ Brodie
#38 Rasmus Sandin – #37 Timothy Liljegren

Goaltenders
Starter: #35 Petr Mrazek
#36 Jack Campbell

Extras: Justin Holl
Injured
: Ilya Mikheyev


Detroit Red Wings Projected Lines

Forwards
#14 Robby Fabbri – #71 Dylan Larkin – #23 Lucas Raymond
#90 Joe Veleno – #24 Pius Suter – #11 Filip Zadina
#92 Vlad Namestnikov – #27 Michael Rasmussen – #73 Adam Erne
#37 Carter Rowney – #22 Mitchell Stephens – #89 Sam Gagner

Defensemen
#65 Danny DeKeyser – #53 Moritz Seider
#2 Nick Leddy – #17 Filip Hronek
#18 Marc Staal – #70 Troy Stetcher

Goaltenders
Starter: #29 Thomas Greiss
#39 Alex Nedeljokvic

Unvaxxed: Tyler Bertuzzi
Injured
: Jakub Vrana