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GAME DAY REPORT: WINGS @ LEAFS

Tonight is the return of the blonde haired Swedish beauty, and dad probably wishes I was talking about a woman.

William Nylander makes his VERY long overdue season debut tonight, at home, against a team that is (surprisingly to me) right in the mix for one of the final wild card spots. If I were placing bets on the outcome I’d put my money on them being on the outside looking in to end the season, and their battle just got tougher as Danny Dekeyser and Anthony Mantha have recently gone down to injury. They’re a dangerous team when given too much room nonetheless. At this point I guess you could say that goes for just about every team in the league though.

The Wings are a team that are average on the penalty kill, and the same can be said for their powerplay. Their GA/GP is slightly below average while their GF/GP is also slightly below average. They have okay depth but nothing spectacular. Their top players aren’t stars but can make you pay, while their goalie is solid but no spectacular. Mediocrity lives in Detroit these days and it’s been a long time since that could be said.

The name of the game in Motown right now is getting their young players time and experience in order to get them to a level where they can help the team compete tomorrow. I know it isn’t a popular opinion at LeafsHub but I’ve always had a soft spot for the Wings, and I do love a good rivalry, so it wouldn’t bother me to see them get back to a solid (but not too solid) team quickly.

Niklas Kronwall plays his 900th NHL game tonight. Congrats on the milestone. Wonder how long it’s been since you left your feet and gave somebody a concussion?

The Leafs, unlike the Wings, are just rolling along with the best in the league. They’re currently on a 5 game winning streak where they’ve allowed just 11 goals against while scoring 24 of their own. They’re now in 2nd place in the NHL, in the Eastern Conference, and in the Atlantic Division. In fact, 3 of the top 4 teams in the NHL are in the Atlantic division, which will make things very interesting come playoff time. A couple of wins from Boston, who have games in hand (again this year, as always), will put them right in the mix as well. It’s easily the best division in the league and credit to the Leafs for doing well within it.

Toronto is now tied for 2nd in the league in GF/GP, are 5th in GA/GP, have the 3rd best PP and the 15th best PK (can’t be perfect I guess) as well. They do just about everything well and adding Nylander back into the fold is only going to make them a more dangerous team.

The lines will be rejigged with Willy back. Kapanen and Johnsson will move onto Nazem Kadris wings, while Marleau and Nylander will be flanking Matthews. If nothing else, this is the type of depth that just about every other team in the league dreams about.

The most surprising development tonight hasn’t been that they opted to play Nylander so soon after signing him. Nor was it that they shuffled the lines when they were working well. The most surprising thing to me tonight is that Garret Sparks will start a game that isn’t a back-to-back.

Mike Babcock says Garret Sparks will start vs. Detroit. Has to do with both getting Andersen rest and keeping Sparks more involved.

— Kristen Shilton (@kristen_shilton) December 6, 2018

I’m not sure this happened for Curtis McElhinney last season. The only non back-to-back games he played, if I remember correctly, were the games where Andersen was hurt.

Sparks has spoken publicly about the difficulty he’s faced with getting ready for games after sitting for long stretches. Maybe he had a heart to heart with the coach and this is the end result. If so, and if he can play steadily and give Andersen a little more rest for the playoffs, then I’m okay with it. He’s been particularly impressive over his previous two games, where he’s stopped 72 of 73 shots against en route to going 2-0 with 1 shutout. He has a 4-1 record this season with a 2.57GAA and 0.924SV%.

On the other end of the ice we’ll see a familiar face, as Jonathan Bernier starts for the Wings. He’s struggled this season, with a 3-6 record to go along with a 3.35GAA and 0898SV%. However, he last played a few days ago against the high powered Colorado Avalanche (tied with the Leafs for 2nd overall in GF/GP in the NHL) and stopped 27 of 28 shots. If he gets in the zone he can give his team a chance to win. Let’s hope this isn’t a bad case of “returning Leaf” and they get to him early tonight.

Leaf lines

Marleau-Matthews-Nylander
Hyman-Tavares-Marner
Johnsson-Kadri-Kapanen
Ennis-Lindholm-Brown

Rielly-Hainsey
Gardiner-Zaitsev
Dermott-Ozhiganov

Sparks starts.#Leafsforever

— Paul Hendrick (@HennyTweets) December 6, 2018

2nd power play unit includes Nylander, Gardiner, Ennis , Marleau and Johnsson. #Leafsforever

— Paul Hendrick (@HennyTweets) December 6, 2018

My prediction? 4-1 Leafs. What’s yours?

GO LEAFS GO!!

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