Each Wednesday throughout the regular season Kevin Weekes will be offering his plusses and minuses for the teams competing in the NBCSN Wednesday Night Rivalry game in his Weekes on the Web blog. Weekes will also be assisting fans with three must-watch elements of the game.
There has been a lot to like about the Detroit Red Wings and Toronto Maple Leafs of late.
The Red Wings have won three in a row, seven of their past eight and nine of their past 11 games. The Maple Leafs are 6-1-1 in their past eight games since a three-game losing streak.
Something has to give when these Original Six rivals face off in this week's Wednesday Night Rivalry game (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, SN, TVA SPORTS).
Let's break it down:
Plusses: What I like about the Red Wings, or rather what I love about the Red Wings, is the reclamation project that is Stephen Weiss.
Weiss hit hockey rock bottom, so to speak. His NHL career as we knew it was dangling in the wind. Not anymore.
To me he's shown a lot of humility and a lot of accountability. We talked to him last week and he showed exactly that. He was humbled. He knew there were things he had to do differently. He knew there were adjustments he had to make. He had to get healthy. I give him a world of credit.
I have spoken to people in that organization on multiple levels to get a good feel of what has happened with Weiss. The key thing is he went down to Grand Rapids of the American Hockey League and he didn't duck or buckle. He wanted to play. He knew he needed to just play hockey again like the old Stephen Weiss.
Grand Rapids coach Jeff Blashill was raving about his attitude and work ethic when he went down there. He said he was a pleasure to have around and that he didn't have the NHL blues, which says a lot about a guy who has played in the League and has had the offensive success he's had.
Blashill talked about Weiss' commitment and regaining his game. Quite frankly, if you look at his production (10 points in his past eight games), it's just been an amazing story.
He has played with Pavel Datsyuk. He's playing on the wing instead of in the middle.
The best part is he came back with the right attitude and said he is going to do what it takes, even though the coach and the organization, understandably so, were down on him. Weiss wasn't the player they envisioned when they signed him, and that's a lot to deal with as a player.
I give him a lot of credit for how he's handled it.
Minuses: Nothing is really concerning of late per se, but if there is one area of their game that I still think can be better is their defense. They are still a little thin on the back end when you go one through seven.
You can definitely say they are way deeper up front than they are on the back end. You can say that without question.
Center - DET
GOALS: 5 | ASST: 10 | PTS: 15
SOG: 44 | +/-: 1
When you've got a Weiss to shift and put on the wing, or a guy like Darren Helm
who you can play up and down the lineup, that shows your depth, and the Red Wings have a lot more depth than people give them credit for. It's organizational depth. I mean, Anthony Mantha
is just getting healthy right now down in Grand Rapids, and that kid can shoot the lights out. He's going to be a stud.
But all that tells me they're much deeper up front than they are on the back end and that's a concern for me.
Plusses: There has been a lot of good lately from the Maple Leafs. Let me stress A LOT OF GOOD.
I'll quote Daniel Winnik, who said to me yesterday, "Weeksie, we're finally starting to do a lot of the right things in the neutral zone, we're having success, and our guys now are recognizing how much that matters."
Winnik played with Corey Perry, Ryan Getzlaf and Teemu Selanne in Anaheim, so he knows how good players are when they are winners, when they have been successful. When you see those guys working hard to get the puck back and making good decisions it's telling.
Look at the Chicago Blackhawks when they don't have the puck and how hard they attack you in the neutral zone so they can regain it and counterattack; to me that says a lot. The Maple Leafs have done a much better job of that of late.
Are they still ideal defensively? Absolutely not.
Did they just give up 46 shots the other night against the Vancouver Canucks and force Jonathan Bernier to make 44 saves? Sure.
But overall throughout this entire stretch they have been better defensively, relatively speaking, and the great thing about them is you know they are lethal. They can sting you. If they are going they can easily score four, five or six on any team in the NHL on any given night.
It's a matter of how they defend and how they work to get the puck back so they don't give up four, five or six. It's a risk-reward thing with the Maple Leafs all the time, but at least in this stretch they have done a better job of managing some of the risk in terms of things that are controllable like not cheating, not forcing, and being positionally sound.
|TALE OF THE TAPE: MAPLE LEAFS-RED WINGS
|15-9-3 (4th, Atlantic)
||17-6-5 (1st, Atlantic)
||Head-to-Head Regular-Season Record
||Streak vs. Opponent
|0-1-1 @ Detroit
||Home/Road Streak vs. Opponent
||3-0-1 vs. Maple Leafs
||Stanley Cup Championships
||Hockey Hall of Fame Members
||Most Famous Alumnus
||Hart Trophy Winners
|Terry Sawchuk (1949-55; 1957-64)
||Best Player in Common
||Terry Sawchuk (1964-67)
Overall they've done a much better job of late and they're on a nice run because of it.
Minuses: I'd like to see the Maple Leafs be a smarter team on a more consistent basis. That's penalties, positioning, decision making and its reads.
Put it this way: You can't have a high hockey IQ to make plays and then not have a high hockey IQ in other ways. That doesn't make sense.
Nobody is saying they need all their guys to play like Marian Hossa, but you should at least have good common sense going the other way to make good puck decisions, good positional decisions.
Look at the second goal the Blackhawks scored against the Nashville Predators on Saturday. Brandon Saad came down the right wing, passed it to the far side. Jonathan Toews was coming down the middle of the ice and he lifted Shea Weber's stick up so the pass could go underneath Weber's stick to Hossa, who scored.
That's a brilliant play by a guy with a brilliant hockey mind. When you watch Chicago, the way they're going now, you see a lot of subtle things like that. There are only little morsels of that that I see from the Maple Leafs right now.
THREE THINGS TO WATCH
1. How fast the Maple Leafs play
Detroit has a lot of young players, a lot of young legs, guys who can skate and have speed. This is a fast Detroit team; the Maple Leafs have to match that speed because the Red Wings will try to push the pace.
2. Toronto's offensive decisions
One thing Red Wings coach Mike Babcock has done is open up the game to let these guys make plays. He doesn't hold them back. He doesn't tell them to chip and chase all the time. He hasn't dumbed them down, so to speak, so what do the Maple Leafs do with that? If they make smart decisions in the neutral zone they can win the game.
3. Level of physicality
If the Maple Leafs are physical, and I mean smart physical, that should be advantageous to them. But I stress smart physical, not running around for the sake of running around so the Red Wings can go 5-on-3 on the power play. Be physical, but be smart.