Toronto Maple Leafs Game Preview: Another Showdown with the Red Wings
We have all waited patiently and now it is time to drop the puck on a new season for the Toronto Maple Leafs. Here at the Tip of the Tower we strive to give you as much content on your Toronto sports teams as humanly possible. This series will preview every single Toronto Maple Leafs game and what you should know for the game that night.
Nov 22, 2014; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Maple Leafs defenceman Jake Gardiner (51) knocks down Detroit Red Wings forward Joakim Andersson (18) at the Air Canada Centre. Toronto defeated Detroit 4-1. Mandatory Credit: John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports
In three games against the Red Wings this season the Leafs are 1-1-1.
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Leafs Injury Report
Roman Polak is out with a knee injury.
Leo Komarov is doubtful with an upper-body injury.
Red Wings Injury Report
Justin Abdelkader is day-to-day with a shoulder injury
Jonas Gustavsson out with a shoulder injury
Dec 6, 2014; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Maple Leafs goalie Jonathan Bernier (45) guards the net against the Vancouver Canucks at Air Canada Centre. Mandatory Credit: Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports
Although the Leafs have put together a nice stretch of games there is still work to be done. Luckily we are starting to see the Jonathan Bernier from last year and as a result the defence has been bailed out countless times. At this point it is going to be hard for this team to make any significant changes without having the players commit to fixing their mistakes.
Dec 9, 2014; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Maple Leafs right wing Phil Kessel (81) scores an empty-net goal in the final minute of teh third period as Calgary Flames defenseman Kris Russell (4) tries to defend at Air Canada Centre. The Maple Leafs beat the Flames 4-1. Mandatory Credit: Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports
Against the Calgary Flames last night, the Leafs felt like they got a wake up call when Bernier made an unbelievable save on Johnny Gaudreau. What the Leafs need to focus on is spending more time in the offensive zone and getting the defence more involved in the play by trying to keep their opponent from breaking out. As a team if you can try to force turnovers or pin your opponent into the zone, even if it does not result in a goal, it sets a standard to keep fighting for the puck. If your a team that is having difficulty defending in your zone then would it not be wise to try to stay out of your zone?
Dec 6, 2014; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Vancouver Canucks defenseman Kevin Bieksa (3) breaks through past Toronto Maple Leafs defenseman Jake Gardiner (51) and defenseman Cody Franson (4) at Air Canada Centre. The Maple Leafs beat the Canucks 5-2. Mandatory Credit: Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports
If the Leafs are going to spend more time in their own zone then they have to clean up their defensive zone coverage. Players like Jake Gardiner, Dion Phaneuf and Stephane Robidas have to be more aware and avoid looking lost in their own zone. Too many times I see Gardiner out of position defensively, he gets beat to the net and sometimes it leads to a goal which makes him look bad. Somehow the defence has to make life difficult for opposing players, as a result the opposing forwards will try to cycle the puck more around the zone instead of getting a quick shot off which is what the Leafs tend to do.
Dec 7, 2014; Raleigh, NC, USA; Detroit Red Wings forward Tomas Tatar (21) is congratulated by teammates after his 2nd period goal against the Carolina Hurricanes at PNC Arena. Mandatory Credit: James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports
The Red Wings have quietly climbed to the top of the Atlantic Division, one of the reasons why is because they have both Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg in the lineup. At the same time Gustav Nyquist, and Tomas Tatar have developed into key contributors for Detroit, especially when Zetterberg and Datsyuk missed a lot of time last season. Jimmy Howard is off to a hot start this season and if he can continue to play well, then the Red Wings have to be considered top contenders in the Eastern Conference.
Jan 1, 2014; Ann Arbor, MI, USA; Detroit Red Wings center Pavel Datsyuk (13) skates against the Toronto Maple Leafs during the 2014 Winter Classic hockey game at Michigan Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports
The Leafs have already played the Red Wings three times this season so there should be no surprise in how they should approach the game. However this will be the first time that they play Datsyuk this season. They have already been burned by Zetterberg so it will not get an easier with Datsyuk in the lineup as well.
Toronto Maple Leafs
Mar 29, 2014; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Maple Leafs center Tyler Bozak (42) skates with the puck against the Detroit Red Wings at Air Canada Centre. The Red Wings beat the Maple Leafs 4-2. Mandatory Credit: Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports
Phil Kessel career vs Detroit: 13 GP – 4 goals – 5 assists – 9 PTS
James Van Riemsdyk career vs Detroit: 8 GP – 3 goals – 1 assist – 4 PTS
Tyler Bozak career vs Detroit: 7 GP – 3 goal – 0 assists – 3 PTS
Joffrey Lupul career vs DET: 21 GP – 9 goal – 6 assists – 15 PTS
Jonathan Bernier career vs Detroit: 9 GP- Record: 3-2-2- 2.51 GAA- .917 SV%
James Reimer career vs DET: 4 GP- Record: 0-3, 3.96 GA- .877 SV%
Detroit Red Wings
Oct 18, 2014; Detroit, MI, USA; Detroit Red Wings left wing Henrik Zetterberg (40) and Toronto Maple Leafs right wing Phil Kessel (81) battle for the puck in overtime at Joe Louis Arena. Detroit won 1-0 in overtime. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports
Henrik Zetterberg career vs TOR: 12 GP – 7 goals – 8 assists – 15 PTS
Pavel Datsyuk career vs TOR: 11 GP- 1 goal- 12 assists- 13 PTS
Gustav Nyquist career vs TOR: 7 GP – 4 goals – 2 assist – 6 PTS
Johan Franzen career vs TOR: 7 GP – 2 goals – 4 assists – 6 PTS
Jimmy Howard career vs TOR: 7 GP- Record: 3-2-1, 2.35 GAA- .907 SV%
Keys to Victory
Oct 18, 2014; Detroit, MI, USA; Detroit Red Wings left wing Henrik Zetterberg (40) celebrates his game winning overtime goal as Toronto Maple Leafs goalie Jonathan Bernier (45) reacts at Joe Louis Arena. Detroit won 1-0 in overtime. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports
The Red Wings will try to capitalize on any breakdown in defensive coverage so the Leafs need to avoid giving the Red Wings point-blank chances. If the Leafs play like they did in the first period against the Flames I’m not sure if the Leafs will be as fortunate to come away with a lead going into the second period.
With that being said Bernier has been given the vote of confidence from the coach so it is now time for him to make it difficult to stop playing him. If the game against the Flames say anything it is that Bernier is gaining the confidence and consistency that the Leafs will need in their push for the playoffs.
Dec 4, 2014; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; New Jersey Devils center Stephen Gionta (11) crashes into Toronto Maple Leafs goalie Jonathan Bernier (45) at Air Canada Centre. Mandatory Credit: Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports
This should not excuse the Leafs for their poor defensive play this year. Out of all the playoff teams in the Eastern Conference they have allowed the most goals, but they are also the second ranked offence in the league. It is great seeing the scoring being spread out but it should concern people that the top line has not lead the charge recently.
Gardiner has to find a way to cut down on his defensive blunders because everyone is expecting him to take the next step. He was given his contract extension because he showed last season that he can be one of the Leafs best defencemen but if he continues to make the same mistakes over and over again he may be hearing from Brendan Shanahan.
Dec 6, 2014; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Maple Leafs center Nazem Kadri (43) battles for a loose puck with Vancouver Canucks defenseman Christopher Tanev (8) at Air Canada Centre. The Maple Leafs beat the Canucks 5-2. Mandatory Credit: Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports
Nazem Kadri has playing better at both ends of the ice and he will have one his toughest tests against the two-headed monster with Datsyuk and Zetterberg. If the can find a way to be productive against the Red Wings then it will speak volumes towards the improvements that he has made this season.
If Bernier plays solid and the Leafs can limit the mistakes in their own end then they have the offence to power past the Red Wings. However if Datsyuk and Zetterberg take control of the game the Leafs better buckle up and hope that the ride is not too bumpy.