Here are five takeaways from the Maple Leafs' 4-3 pre-season loss to the Detroit Red Wings Saturday at Joe Louis Arena:
Getting the game's first lead proving to be a challenge for Leafs. Thus far in the pre-season, the Leafs have struggled early in games and in periods, with defensive zone lapses and miscommunications leading to leads for the opposition. Such was the case again Saturday, when Detroit took advantage of a Toronto turnover in their own zone and winger Gustav Nyquist took a nice feed from Thomas Vanek and beat goalie Frederik Andersen to make it 1-0 at 1:46 of the opening period. The Wings struck again approximately seven-and-a-half minutes later on Dylan Larkin's second pre-season goal, and the Buds headed into the first intermission with a 2-0 lead. It's mentally tough to keep playing from behind, and this young Leafs team will continue working at coming out of the gate with more attention to detail.
Hyman's first goal of the pre-season a sweet reward for a hot line. Although Toronto trailed after 20 minutes, one of the bright spots for the team was the play of the Auston Matthews-Zach Hyman-William Nylander line, which was dangerous consistently and would've pulled the Buds even were it not for the stellar play of Wings goalie Petr Mrazek. But the line broke through toward the end of the middle frame when Matthews made a push down the middle and into Detroit's zone and passed the puck to Hyman on the wing; Hyman attempted to send the puck back to Matthews as he neared Mrazek, but it ricocheted off the skate of Wings blueliner Alexey Marchenko and into the net to cut the lead to 2-1 and give Hyman his first goal of the pre-season.
It wasn't a goal drawn up on any coaching white board, but it was a nice karmic give-back for the times the line was generating offensive opportunities.
Each time Toronto punched back, Wings had an answer. Three minutes after Hyman scored - and with just 15 seconds left in the second period - the Wings restored their two-goal advantage when Brendan Smith beat Andersen. And despite the Leafs beginning the third period on fire - Nylander scored his second of the exhibition schedule just 39 seconds into the third, and veteran centre Brooks Laich tied the game 12 seconds after Nylander's goal - Detroit took the lead for the rest of the night at the 11:57 mark of the period on Anthony Mantha's third goal of the pre-season.
Toronto turned up the heat on Mrazek and the Wings after that, with the Buds outshooting Detroit by a 2:1 ratio (14-7) in the period. But the goalie and the home team rode out the Leafs' pressure to secure the win. The Buds were resilient, but spent so much time trying to play catch-up, they didn't have enough to push past the home team.
Marner may not be piling up points just yet, but he is turning heads. Rookie Mitch Marner didn't make a mark on the scoresheet for Toronto, but the 19-year-old forward continued to impress with his speed and tenacity - and head coach Mike Babcock acknowledged his efforts by giving him the second-most ice time (19:12) of any Leafs forward Saturday. Marner's linemates James van Riemsdyk and Tyler Bozak benefitted from Marner's vision and craftiness, and Marner wasn't afraid to shoot if he had the chance. He was a phenomenal point producer in the Ontario League and it's safe to assume the points will come for him, but his creativity and determination are major assets for him that already are translating at the NHL level,
Pre-season is over, and final roster decisions are coming. The Leafs trimmed their training camp contingent to 29 early Saturday by reassigning 18 players to the Marlies, but still must make decisions to get down to the NHL-mandated 23-player roster by Tuesday. The results of the final game won't be the sole decider of who stays and who goes, but this final pre-season game was the last opportunity for players to assert themselves in front of coaching staff and management.
The Leafs didn't pull out a win in Detroit, but their heightened energy level reflected the nervous tension that comes with the end of camp, and the players who do make the NHL team will be thrilled to begin the regular season Wednesday when Toronto faces the Senators in Ottawa.