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Five Takeaways - Leafs @ Red Wings - 09/29/17

Here are five takeaways from the Maple Leafs' 4-2 pre-season win over the Detroit Red Wings Friday at Little Caesars Arena:

by Adam Proteau / MapleLeafs.com

Marner's blistering shot

TOR@DET: Marner rips home slap shot to open scoring

Mitch Marner picks up the feed from Jake Gardiner and fires a slap shot past Jimmy Howard to give the Maple Leafs an early 1-0 lead

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1. Leafs score first on Marner's marker, but Wings dictate play for rest of opening period, tie it up before first intermission. The Leafs managed just two shots on net in the first 15 minutes of action, but one of those shots turned into a goal when winger Mitch Marner's power play effort led to a 1-0 Leafs lead at the 3:49 mark of the opening frame. But the Red Wings dictated much of the play in the remainder of the period, and a number of Toronto defensive breakdowns resulted in good offensive opportunities for the home team.

Eventually, Detroit's pressure paid off: after a savvy setup from teammate Henrik Zetterberg, winger Gustav Nyquist fired the puck past Leafs goalie Frederik Andersen and into the Buds' net at 13:09, and the two teams were tied as they entered the first intermission. But certainly, Toronto head coach Mike Babcock wasn't pleased to see the large disparity in shots (with the Wings leading 15-3 in that department after 20 minutes), and Andersen had to come up with some big saves to keep his side from trailing at the start of the second period.

Video: TOR@DET: Nylander redirects shot past Howard

2. Toronto regains lead early in second as Gardiner, Hyman and Nylander combine for go-ahead goal. Toronto began the middle frame with more jump to their game than they displayed for most of the first, and once again, they took an early lead. This time, defenceman Jake Gardiner took the puck just inside the Wings' blueline and passed it down toward Detroit goalie Jimmy Howard, where Leafs forwards Zach Hyman and William Nylander were heading; Hyman got a piece of the puck, but it went off him and directly to Nylander, who redirected it through Howard to put the Buds back in front at 3:22 of the second.

However - and in spite of the Leafs outshooting Detroit 12-6 in the period - the Wings did what they did in the first, striking back to even the score prior to the intermission. With 32 seconds left in the second, and after Toronto failed to clear the puck out of their zone, centre Luke Glendening gathered his own rebound and quickly backhanded the puck into the Leafs' net to tie things up at two goals apiece. This was a stronger all-around period for the Buds, but playing against a Detroit squad that had most of their NHLers in the lineup, they couldn't afford to lose focus, and that blip on their radar just before the 40-minute mark turned into the tying marker.

Video: TOR@DET: Matthews cashes in on his own rebound

3. Matthews puts Buds back in front less than a minute into third after slick feed from Nylander. The teams had barely began competing in the third period when Nylander's forechecking pursuit in Detroit's zone resulted in him getting the puck at the boards to the left of Howard. Nylander took less than a second to locate Matthews, who was all alone directly in front of the net and quickly went to his backhand to score his second of the pre-season and make it 3-2 for Toronto.

The chemistry Matthews and Nylander have developed from last season until now is undeniable, and given that the former is just 20 years old and the latter is just 21, it's thrilling for Leafs Nation to imagine what they'll be capable of in the years to come. As it stands right now, they're already capable of quite a bit.

Video: TOR@DET: Andersen sprawls to make glove save

4. Leafs get stronger as game goes on, keep Wings on their heels and in penalty box for much of the third. Despite their initial struggles in the first period, the Leafs gained confidence and more possession as the night unfolded, and that was especially apparent in the third, when they forced Detroit into taking three consecutive penalties in a span of 4:06. Toronto didn't score on any of the ensuing power plays, but they contained the Wings in their own zone for most of the frame and outshot them 12-2 through the final period.

The Leafs had six man advantages in the game - while giving Detroit five power plays, including one with 1:09 left in regulation - but their confidence clearly grew as the game went on, and winger Leo Komarov's empty-net goal with 16 seconds left sealed the win for the visitors.

5. Now on five-game win streak, Leafs focus on closing out pre-season Saturday with rematch against Wings. The Leafs' victory Friday gives them five consecutive victories, and sets them up nicely to finish out the pre-season schedule on a six-game win streak if they can beat Detroit again Saturday night at Ricoh Coliseum in Toronto. Both teams' lineup is likely to be different for that game, but the Buds have won five in a row with many different groups of players, and against opponents who have iced both veteran and youth-heavy squads.

And while it's never a good idea to put too much stock in what happens prior to the start of the regular season - which, this year, will take place for the Leafs Oct. 4 in Winnipeg - Babcock and Toronto's management have to be encouraged to see the team finding ways to win in spite of stretches of sub-par play. There are still battles for jobs on the NHL roster for some of the Buds, and the fact those battles could come down to the final pre-season game is a great harbinger of what's ahead for the franchise this year.
 

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