Starting tonight in Detroit, the Maple Leafs are hoping last year’s season-series sweep will carry over against an improved Red Wings team that is currently nipping at their heels in the Atlantic Division standings (7 p.m. EST, Sportsnet).

The added experience of David Perron, Andrew Copp, Ben Chiarot, Olli Maatta, and Ville Husso insulating the Red Wings’ young core of talent has so far gotten Detroit into a playoff position at 11-5-4 as we hit the quarter pole of the 2022-23 campaign. The obvious question is to what degree is it sustainable?

They’re getting much better goaltending — up from 28th in the NHL to 11th in 5v5 save percentage — and are also shooting over nine percent as a team at 5v5. Their special teams are a big factor in the early success, with their penalty kill sitting sixth in the NHL and their power play ranking 11th. But Detroit remains a bottom-five team by their 5v5 possession numbers (by both shot attempts and shots) and a bottom-10 team by expected goal share through 20 games.

For the Leafs, the recipe for their recent success on the road has been a consistent compete level and a dialed-in structure right out of the starting gates in each game, allowing them to play with the lead, surrender very few high-quality chances, and opportunistically capitalize on the other team’s mistakes. In each of their last three consecutive road wins, they’ve taken the lead inside the first half of the first period and never looked back afterward.

This is a Wings team that will make its fair share of defensive mistakes (27th in the NHL in xGA/60) if the Leafs can continue with that game plan of playing a committed team game defensively and staying patient offensively knowing the goals will come through the structure they’ve put in place during this highly-successful month of November (9-1-3).

Game Day Quotes

Derek Lalonde on the challenge against the Leafs:

I think it is a good test in that it is an elite team. The record is starting to play itself out. It is actually very impressive what they have done. They are going through on the backend what we went through earlier in the season on the front end. Literally, it was six of our top eight forwards out.

it is pretty impressive what they have done with who they have out. It is a credit to Sheldon and his staff. They are winning because they are playing the right way. They are more concerned about keeping you out of their net.

On this current streak that they’re on, they’re giving up one or two. Everyone looks at them with the world-class difference-makers, but they are playing the right way. It will be a good test in a lot of ways for us.

Lalonde on his team’s defensive play and five-on-five numbers this season:

Our numbers, at five on five… I mean, we gave up 22 goals in three of our five [regulation] losses. They are going to be skewed a little bit in only a 20-game sample size.

Giving up 22 goals in three games is still a little bit of who we are in terms of not playing those complete games at times. But our offensive numbers… we’re not rolling out what [the Leafs] are rolling out tomorrow. We are not rolling out what the top teams are rolling out, which is fine. We know who we are and what we are.

I am pretty happy on the whole with our five-on-five team defense. Obviously, we had those three games with 22 goals. On those nights where you give up three on the penalty kill, or a goalie gives up five or six, it just takes forever to get those numbers back.

For the most part, especially lately, our five-on-five defense has been pretty good.

Sheldon Keefe on the improvements the Red Wings have made over last season:

Depth and experience. A lot of the guys they added have significant experience in the league. They have surrounded their younger players who are elite young plays, were drafted high in the draft, and have great first, second, and third years — or whatever it is — for each of them.

They just have that added depth. It is definitely a different group. We faced bits and pieces of them in the preseason and got a little bit of a taste of that, but obviously, they have been playing really well as a team, in particular in this building.

We know this is a team that is really competitive in the division. We are going to see them a bunch through the division. We need to be at our best tonight.

Keefe on the team’s ability to get off to fast starts of late:

The focus has been on establishing a team game and making sure we are not putting ourselves in a bad spot. Wait and see if the other team is going to make a mistake first, and when they do, be ready to capitalize on it.

That has worked well for us. That is what we are going to have to do again tonight. Be confident in what we have done here of late, but that is over with. We have to do it again tonight.

Keefe on Mac Hollowell’s ability to adjust to the league so far:

You first of all have to acknowledge that we have played a really good team game no matter who is playing for us. Whether you look at Giordano and Holl and how they have elevated, or Sandin and Liljegren, our team game is really supporting everybody. Everybody is doing better.

We talked about Mitch Marner, and our team game contributes to that as well. That is part of what we talked about: When guys leave the lineup, your team game should be able to take care of your team. We should be able to take care of young guys coming in and allow them to get comfortable.

The other piece is that he has just worked hard. He has experience at the AHL level. He has been up with us in the past. He has earned callups for us in the past. He has played well in preseason. He is a guy who is really comfortable around here and guys really like him.

With the way that he skates and moves the puck, guys like that feel comfortable on the ice because the pace is not overwhelming.

Toronto Maple Leafs Projected Lines

#58 Michael Bunting – #34 Auston Matthews – #88 William Nylander
#19 Calle Järnkrok – #91 John Tavares – #16 Mitch Marner
#15 Alex Kerfoot – #29 Pontus Holmberg – #47 Pierre Engvall
#12 Zach Aston-Reese – #64 David Kämpf – #62 Denis Malgin

#55 Mark Giordano – #3 Justin Holl
#38 Rasmus Sandin – #37 Timothy Liljegren
#98 Victor Mete – #81 Mac Hollowell

Starter: #30 Matt Murray
#50 Erik Källgren

Extras: Conor Timmins, Nick Robertson, Wayne Simmonds
: Jordie Benn, Morgan Rielly, TJ Brodie, Jake Muzzin, Ilya Samsonov

Detroit Red Wings Projected Lines

#81 Dominik Kulabik – #71 Dylan Larkin – #57 David Perron
#59 Tyler Bertuzzi – #18 Andrew Copp – #23 Lucas Raymond
#73 Adam Erne – #27 Michael Rasmussen – #70 Oskar Sundqvist
#52 Jonatan Berggren – #90 Joe Veleno – #24 Pius Suter

#8 Ben Chiarot – #53 Moritz Seider
#2 Olli Maatta – #17 Filip Hronek
#96 Jake Walman – #82 Jordan Oesterle

Starter: #35 Ville Husso
#39 Alex Nedeljkovic

Injured/Out: Robby Fabbri, Jakub Vrana, Filip Zadina, Mark Pysyk, Elmer Soderblom