William Nylander made his much anticipated return and Garret Sparks given a rare start, resting number one goaltender Frederik Andersen, with a well-deserved night off.
Nylander showed the expected rustiness from not playing for almost 7 months but the good news is, he did exhibit some of the flash Leafs management and fans have become accustom that will return with time.
Sparks however continues to overplay the puck, be out of position, lacks confidence and just looks uncomfortable in the net. In fairness, playing once a month mentally, takes a special mindset that is very rare amongst goalkeepers and while Sparks hopes to be a starter one day, must adjust to the role of a part timer. And quick.
Despite his winning record (4-1-1) Sparks inconsistent play has to be a concern for Leafs brass because there isn’t anyone in the organization ready to step in if something happens to Andersen.
The hometown crowd had two breathtaking, heart stopping moments; Auston Matthews falling awkwardly into the corner boards after a Niklas Kronwall hit and secondly in the dying seconds a Detroit point shot rang off both posts that had beaten Sparks cleanly. Every shot on goal had the crowd holding its breath.
It wasn’t all on Sparks; the Red Wings played a great road game despite ex-Leafs goalie Jonathan Bernier letting in a couple he’d like back giving Toronto a window to steal another one with a third period surge. Down three entering the final frame, goals by Tavares, Hyman and Johnsson sent the game to OT but a Leafs offensive zone giveaway sent Dylan Larkin in alone on Sparks and he made no mistake potting the winner.
Detroit like Buffalo a few nights earlier seemed to concede the fact they can’t keep up with the skilled, speedy Leafs and rather play possum crowding the neutral zone and picking spots to mount a charge. Make no mistake that Detroit has improved from the opening week loss to the Leafs and had Bernier been sharper the game wouldn’t have needed extra time.
Once again Toronto falls into a mid-game lull and must realize soon this will be their downfall if they don’t up the intensity for sixty minutes. They are an elite team when they play a high level skill game; we’ll give them some grace after five wins in row and allow them an off night that in spite of everything still garnered a point.
A true test coming up with a five game road trip starting in Boston tomorrow night (the teams Achilles heel) followed by matches in Carolina, 2 in Florida and wrapping up in New Jersey.