The Maple Leafs capped a perfect 4-0 road trip with a 4-2 win in Detroit built on an opportunistic offense, excellent goaltending from Matt Murray, and perfect special teams.

Your game in 10:

1.   The last three road games for the Leafs went perfectly according to script to start the game — they went out to early leads in each — so it was a good test to see how they’d respond to an early goal against.

An Auston Matthews turnover inside the Red Wings’ slot with Victor Mete aggressively activating inside the offensive zone led to an odd-man rush against that Matt Murray made the initial save on, and there was a pretty feeble effort to box out and clear up the loose-puck situation around Murray in the crease by the Mete-Hollowell pairing plus Matthews, leading to a scrambly goal finished off by Moritz Seider.  The Leafs went down 1-0 for the first time since the loss to the Islanders five games ago.

Soon after, the Leafs went to the first penalty kill of the game due to a pretty soft hooking call on Rasmus Sandin with the score at 1-0 Detroit and the shots at 5-0 Detroit.

2.   The response from the Leafs? Really good.

The PK shifted the momentum in the Leafs‘ favour by denying setup attempt after setup attempt from the Red Wings in the final 1:30 of the power play. Detroit attempted five entries up the left side and were outright denied or greatly disrupted each time by good aggressive sticks/positioning from Timothy Liljegren and Justin Holl holding the line, enabled by close support from a harassing backchecking forward. The clears were decisive.

The Leafs seemed well prepared for the power-play breakout tendencies of the Red Wings. They didn’t concede a shot on goal on their penalty kill, and they fed off of the momentum shift back at five-on-five.

That early kill set the tone for the PK throughout this game as two more highly-effective kills took place in the second and third periods with the Leafs defending the lead.

3.   The Leafs tied the game just before the midway point of the first period on a breakout play started by Mac Hollowell, who rather than ringing it around the boards under the initial pressure, used his legs to protect the puck, turn the corner around the net, and fire it up the wall towards Michael Bunting for his first career NHL point. Bunting made a good play on it in the neutral zone to establish body positioning and stick lift Moritz Seider before turning up ice for an odd-man rush.

Auston Matthews took the short pass from Bunting and called his own number for his first goal at five-on-five this season that was simply a no-doubter blown past the goalie with a forehand wrister, vintage Matthews style.

A few things are noteworthy here: One is that Matthews appears to be confidently beating goaltenders cleanly at even-strength with his wrist shot again, and two is that Bunting has now been instrumental with a primary assist on a couple of Matthews 5v5 goals in the last two games (he also set Matthews up in the slot after a won battle + drop pass for a near goal with three minutes left in the third). Both players were battling through slow starts relative to expectations, but both are clearly starting to find their games together now.

4.   There have been a lot of similarities between last season’s first two months and this season’s with the slow-ish Octobers and then the red-hot Novembers at the team level. On an individual basis, Auston Matthews began his ridiculous 51-in-50 march right around this time of the season last year as well. He scored seven goals and 15 points in his first 17 games last season (quite similar to this season’s numbers — good but not Matthews-level otherworldly) before taking off on November 24 and never looking back.

Mitch Marner started with 15 points in his first 19 games before — again, right around American Thanksgiving — taking off with 82 points in his next 53 games. The parallels are pretty uncanny here.

5.   The Leafs took the lead quickly after tying the game up thanks to a power-play breakthrough. After John Tavares and Mitch Marner worked to win a puck battle down low, the puck found its way to Rasmus Sandin, who was afforded acres of space up top. It was good to see Sandin simply use the space afforded to him, take a few strides in, and shoot for the tip from Tavares. The screen seemed to blind Ville Husso enough to produce a rebound that William Nylander pounced on to make it 2-1. Simple but effective execution there for the Leafs’ first power-play goal in the 11th attempt since Morgan Rielly exited the lineup.

The Leafs really swung the game in their favour with the momentum-changing PK leading into the 5v5 goal and then the PP goal all inside a five-minute span. They showed good composure to shake it off after conceding and then a true killer instinct there.

6.   The later stages of the first period actually featured some of the Leafs’ worst hockey of the road trip in terms of time spent inside their own zone. They were out-shot attempted 18-6, outshot 10-3, and out-chanced 10-2 in the first 20 minutes at five-on-five. Offensive-zone time was clocked at 4:07 – 2:33 in favour of the Red Wings. In fact, the Leafs didn’t win any of the periods at even strength by the shots or scoring chance numbers.

They definitely took a small step back in this game overall in terms of their ability to exit the zone cleanly on the first attempt — and it’s something Sheldon Keefe is going to have to emphasize as an area for improvement after this game to avoid any complacency setting in. 

Pretty much everything the Leafs threw at Ville Husso in the first half of the game seemed to go in; four goals on 13 shots chased him from the game, and the 3-1 goal by Mitch Marner — as nice of a job as he did to cut in and shoot back against the grain — as well as 4-1 goal off of the long-range wrister by Rasmus Sandin were should-really-be-saved kind of goals. It was the sort of game where the Leafs would score on a chance at one end before/after the Red Wings were stonewalled by Matt Murray on an equal or better scoring opportunity.

To their credit, the Leafs didn’t give up a ton of grade-A chances in terms of odd-man rushes (outside of the 1-0 goal), breakaways, or clear breakdowns leading to clean looks from the middle of their defensive zone. But the Leafs were not their sharpest when breaking out at five-on-five, and if not addressed properly and taken seriously, it is the kind of win that could precede the end of a winning streak.

7.   Some of it can probably be attributed to the grind of the stretch of schedule the Leafs have just been through. They played five games in seven days in five different cities while missing multiple veteran minute-logging defensemen. They found another way to win tonight through special teams, goaltending, and an opportunistic offense.

What was particularly big for the Leafs during this busy week (in which they went 4-0-1) is how often they played with a multi-goal lead, enabling Sheldon Keefe to preserve his stars a little more, which was a goal of his entering the season regardless. This was another game where Auston Matthews was in the 18-19 minute range while John Tavares and William Nylander were down in the 16-17.5 minute range. Matthews actually only has one non-overtime game where he was over 20 minutes in the entire month of November.

8.   What an amazing second period by Mitch Marner, who is clearly playing with the belief that he can create a goal with every touch of the puck, but even more than that, he is literally doing it all in all areas of the game. In the middle 20 alone, he scored a goal, made a key shot block, drew a penalty on the PK, and set up John Tavares with a beautiful feed across the slot leading to a shot off the cross-bar. He also set up Calle Järnkork for a couple of really good looks in this game with nice feeds from below the goal line. Tavares alone could’ve had two or three goals off of Marner setups. He’s driving ridiculous amounts of offense for the team at even strength right now.

An opportunity at Leafs franchise-record history — 18 straight games with a point — awaits him on Wednesday on home ice versus the San Jose Sharks. We’re running out of superlatives to describe Marner’s play this month.

9.   With 23:57 in this game, Justin Holl led the Leafs in ice time in three out of the four wins on this road trip. He’s played over 20 minutes at even strength over the trip and over three minutes shorthanded on a PK that just went nine for its last 10.

Holl and Mark Giordano, the pairing currently playing the toughest minutes on the team, have outscored the opposition 2-1 and outshot them 32-23 at five on five with an expected goal share of 52% on the road trip. They were the only Leafs defensemen to break even in shot and scoring chance share in this game at 5v5.

Early in the second period, Giordano and Holl orchestrated a breakout where Holl jumped up, took a D-to-D pass in the neutral zone, broke the line, rounded the defenseman, and drove the net for a near goal.

Can’t say enough about what this pairing has provided the team in the absence of Brodie and Rielly. The Rasmus Sandin and Timothy Liljegren pairing has been about as good as could be realistically expected/hoped for, too, even if there has been the odd growing pain. After the Minnesota game in which Sandin threw a puck away for a near-late tying goal, it was interesting to see Sandin receive just six shifts/4:24 in ice time in the third period as Dean Chynoweth went with Mete-Liljegren instead of Sandin-Liljegren with the Wings’ goalie pulled at 4-2.

10.   Matt Murray has now won four of his five starts and has yet to lose in regulation since he returned from injury. He was excellent again in this game and made a particularly critical stop with 10 minutes left in the second period. A rare mistake from Mark Giordano — a pizza to the other team at the top of his own crease from behind the net — was met by a great point-blank reaction save by Murray to keep the Wings safely out of reach.

He couldn’t do much about either Detroit goal. The second one was a tip he had no chance on and was more of a zone-time goal against the Leafs as they sat back a little for a stretch in the third (they were actually in a pretty good defensive shape there, and Zach Aston-Reese was doing a good job of hounding the puck — Seider just made a nice play).

The Leafs are generally supporting Murray well with their commitment defensively as a team — it’s not the most reliable stat or always indicative of strong defensive play, but it’s notable that they’ve blocked 20 shots a game on this road trip compared to a season average of 14 per game before this week. They are clogging the middle well and haven’t given up too many clear-cut scoring chances off of catastrophic breakdowns or odd-man rushes. But Murray has been a rock when the inevitable odd mistake has been made, and tonight the Leafs made their fair share with the puck inside their own zone.

Heat Map: 5v5 Shot Attempts

Game Flow: 5v5 Shot Attempts