In two previous games this season, the Red Wings managed to get the better of the Maple Leafs.
The first game landed in Detroit’s favour due to the high-octane offence of Detroit’s top line. The following night, the Leafs dropped a closely-contested game where Henrik Zetterberg scored the only goal with seconds to go in overtime.
This time, everything went the Leafs’ way.
“We knew we had to get the points because we owed them,” Leafs captain Dion Phaneuf said. “They were really big points, we’re chasing them.”
This was the third meeting between the two teams. But the deck was stacked against Toronto in many different ways.
The Red Wings came into this game with the second-best penalty-kill in the league. Detroit also had a good proficiency at winning in the faceoff circle, ranked third in the NHL.
The Leafs opened the scoring in the first period thanks to Leo Komarov’s second goal of the season. But after that, things got a little difficult for Toronto.
Detroit was generating a lot of chances towards Leafs netminder Jonathan Bernier and were rewarded for their pressure, when Tomas Tatar tied it up 1-1 midway through the second period.
In the third period, the Leafs came out hard and made some adjustments.
Tyler Bozak was thrust into increased duty in the faceoff circle. Through the first 40 minutes, he was the only Leaf to win more than 50% of his faceoffs.
“I used him in the defensive zone starting in the penalty killing because of his faceoff promise,” said Leafs head coach Randy Carlyle. “He was really the only guy who was dominate in the faceoff circle over two periods.”
This strategy allowed Bozak to be in a position to score his fourth career shorthanded goal. It was also the game winner.
“I just caught a nice break to get a breakaway and luckily it went in,” he said.
Bozak has spent a lot of time on the penalty-kill in Toronto over the years. He has shorthanded goals in each of the last three seasons, including this one.
Peter Holland added insurance for the Maple Leafs late in the third period with his fifth goal of the season.
Bozak added an empty netter.
The lone Detroit goal in the first cost the Maple Leafs more than just a goal against. Roman
Polak was hurt on the play as he went awkwardly into the boards and didn’t return.
“It’s serious enough that he’ll be out for awhile” Carlyle said. Polak will have an MRI on Sunday to determine the extent of his lower-body injury.
Jonathan Bernier was solid in goal for the Maple Leafs, making 26 saves while allowing just one goal. It was his best performance since November 12, when the Leafs beat the Boston Bruins 6-1.
Even keeled season?
There have been some good performances, and some bad. But no matter how much better or worse the Leafs have played against any opponent this season, they have not won or lost more then three games in a row.
Core players and winning records
Leo Komarov’s goal to open the game was the sixth of his career. The Leafs improved to 6-0-0 all-time when Komarov scores a goal in a game. When Peter Holland scores a goal this season, the Leafs are 5-0-0. When the secondary scoring is clicking for the Leafs, it’s producing results.
Cody Franson played in his 200th game for the Maple Leafs and logged a career high 26:14 of ice time. A lot of that time was accrued based on the Polak’s early exit. He wasn’t able to extend his point streak which was halted at nine games (two goals and nine assists).