There is little doubt that Mike Babcock, veteran NHL coach and new coach of the Toronto Maple Leafs has his work cut out for him. There is also little doubt that Jeff Blashill, rookie NHL coach and Babcock’s former assistant at the Detroit Red Wings has had a strong debut in the 2015/2016 preseason series. Babcock’s record speaks for itself. Blashill’s star, on the other hand, is definitely on the rise.
The preseason ended with these two coaches – the master and his apprentice – facing off for two games in two nights: the first on Friday, October 2nd at Joe Louis Arena in Detroit and the second on Saturday, October 3rd at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto. The apprentice walked away the victor both times.
Friday, October 2.
The atmosphere in Joe Louis Arena on Friday night was noticeably charged. This was the first faceoff between Detroit and Toronto since Mike Babcock left to coach the Leafs last summer and Blashill was promoted from his head coaching position at the AHL’s Grand Rapids Griffins, Detroit’s primary affiliate. Also, Detroit’s proximity to Canada, with Windsor just across the Detroit River and Toronto only a few hours away meant a lot of blue jerseys were sitting in the seats.
The first period action started immediately, with a goal by James van Riemsdyk (Assists: Daniel Winnik, Martin Marincin) at only 01:09 into the game to put Toronto up 1. Detroit quickly regrouped and retaliated with a goal just over a minute later at the 02:31 mark by Justin Abdelkader (Assists: Henrik Zetterberg, Jonathan Ericsson) to even the score. Another Red Wing goal at 05:21 by Drew Miller (Assists: Daniel Cleary, Brian Lashoff) took Detroit up by one to 2-1. A dual penalty at 13:47 sent Drew Miller (hooking) and Mark Arcobello (goaltender interference) to the boxes, but with the teams still evenly matched 4 on 4 the penalties passed as a non-event. Dion Phaneuf ended the period with a penalty for interference at 19:28 and the period closed with Detroit in the lead 2-1.
Both teams continued aggressively, and a testimony to the ability of net-minders Jimmy Howard and James Reimer, the game was held at 2-1 from05:21 in the first period until 19:28 in the second. A hooking penalty on Tomas Tatar at 18:49 in the second period placed the Maple Leafs on a power play. Mark Arcobello took advantage of the opportunity at the 19:28 mark tying the game and closing the second period with assists from Morgan Rielly and Kasperi Kapanen.
Moving into the third period, Detroit was not able to capitalize on the continuing power play from Phaneuf when Wings Captain Henrik Zetterberg was sent to the box at 00:25 for holding. Toronto lost the power play advantage however, when Dion Phaneuf went back to the box at 01:47 on a tripping penalty. A Zetterberg wrist shot (Assists: Gustav Nyquist, Mike Green) at 03:57 put the Wings up again, 3-2. With less than two minutes left in the game, Babcock pulled Reimer to put the extra player on the ice to attempt to force the game into overtime. Brad Richards was able to take control of the puck and at 18:35 clinched the game with an unassisted empty-net goal, ending the night at 4-2 in favor of the Wings.
Saturday, October 3
Saturday saw the Maple Leafs back on their home ice in Toronto and ready to redeem the loss of the previous night in Detroit.
The first period opened aggressively with a penalty only 10 seconds in on the Leafs Michael Grabner for holding. Despite the best attempts of both teams, however, the first period ended with the score even at 0.
The second period started much as the first with solid play between the pipes by both the Wings’ Mrazek and the Leafs’ Bernier keeping the score tied at 0. Both teams failed to capitalize on power plays created by the Wings’ Nick Jensen at 03:06 and the Leafs’ Pierre-Alexandre Parenteau at 08:20. Then at 13:50, a wrist shot from the Wings Andreas Athanasiou assisted by Tyler Bertuzzi and Anthony Mantha put the Wings on the board with one point. With another penalty against the Leafs’ van Riemsdyk for holding at 18:54, the Wings stepped up again and at 19:06 Anthony Mantha scored a power play goal assisted by Andreas Athanasiou and Xavier Ouellet to end the second period 2-0 Detroit.
Not willing to go down without a solid fight, Toronto came back quickly in the start of the third period. At 00:22 Brad Boyes, assisted by van Riemsdyk and Scott Harrington, finally let Toronto make a mark and put the game at 2-1. Tensions remained high and at 08:17 those tensions found outlet in a scrum between the teams. The Wings’ Anthony Mantha and the Leafs’ Peter Holland each took a 5 minute major for fighting, and Tyler Bertuzzi and Richard Panik each grabbed two minute penalties for roughing. At 13:14 the Maple Leafs were provided one more opportunity to score when Daniel Cleary was sent to the box on a holding penalty. Despite best efforts, the Leafs were not able to capitalize on the power play and the game ended in a 2-1 Red Wing victory.
There is no doubt that this end of the preseason series will be top of mind for the Maple Leafs when they take on Detroit in the Wings regular season opener on October 9. Will the master reclaim his place? Or will the apprentice continue his rise?