Leafs eye defensive improvement in facing Red Wings

NHL

The Toronto Maple Leafs will have some lineup changes when they host the Detroit Red Wings on Saturday night.

Maple Leafs coach Sheldon Keefe will pair Timothy Liljegren with Rasmus Sandin on defense, and struggling Justin Holl will be benched.

Two new defense tandems will include Morgan Rielly with Travis Dermott and Jake Muzzin with TJ Brodie.

“We have not played well enough as a unit defensively,” Keefe said. “That’s as a team. That includes the forwards and their contributions as well. The D corps has not played well enough.

“It’s not just Justin Holl. But he has not played near his level we have come to expect. He has earned a greater degree of expectations and responsibility through his play, but has not been to that level to start with.”

Petr Mrazek, who has not played since he sustained a groin injury on Oct. 14 in a game against the Ottawa Senators, will start in goal.

The Leafs are 3-4-1 and had to rally to defeat the struggling Chicago Blackhawks 3-2 in overtime on Wednesday. That ended Toronto’s four-game losing streak.

The Red Wings had won two in a row before losing 3-2 in overtime to the visiting Florida Panthers on Friday night.

During their winning streak, the Red Wings won 3-2 in overtime on Wednesday over the host Washington Capitals, coming back from a two-goal deficit. It was a game that showed the difference in the Red Wings this season from the last two seasons.

“That’s the difference for us, is winning these tight games,” said Red Wings left winger Adam Erne, who had a goal and an assist on Wednesday. “It shows a lot of character. (Washington is) a highly skilled team with a lot of big names, and we just stuck with it, stuck to the game plan, and eventually it paid off.”

The Red Wings fell behind 2-0 to the Panthers as well, before tying it on a goal by Pius Suter at 17:19 of the third period.

“We’ve been in situations where we found our way to wins, and that breeds confidence,” Red Wings coach Jeff Blashill said.

“That’s part of it. We have some guys that have matured over the years in terms of living through that. As hard as some of those moments are to live, you hope you grow. A number of our guys have grown even through some of the difficulties we’ve faced. And then we have some new faces that have a calm demeanor to them, and just kind of keep playing.”

Toronto also overcame a two-goal deficit on Wednesday in salvaging one win from a three-game road trip.

Mitchell Marner earned an assist to end a six-game points drought on Wednesday. He didn’t go more than two games without a point last season, and had not gone six games since 2017-18.

“This road trip didn’t go the way we wanted it to,” Marner said. “We wanted to make sure we finished off strong. Didn’t start where we wanted to, battled adversity, came back and just every single guy kind of chipped in throughout this game.”

The Maple Leafs signed Rielly to an eight-year, $60 million contract extension on Friday. It will carry through the 2029-30 season.

–Field Level Media

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