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Maple Leafs Win Against Red Wings, But Don't Make it Look Easy

The Toronto Maple Leafs finally let the offense flow, but a tired Red Wings team lingered until the very end.

A win is a win, and that's how the Toronto Maple Leafs will go into their day off after returning from a three-game road trip with a 5-4 victory over the Detroit Red Wings. 

But there are still some underlying issues on the defensive side of things for Toronto.

"Some mixed emotions," Maple Leafs defenseman Jake Muzzin said. "We'll take the win, we did a lot of good things but we definitely have to tighten some things up and play better with the lead, that's for sure."

Muzzin scored his first goal of the season on Saturday and he helped validate what was a good first period for the club from an analytical point of view. 

But as play continued on in the second period, the Red Wings continued to hang around and found quick responses to goals scored by the Maple Leafs.

Toronto was up 2-1 in the third period when Alex Kerfoot scored early in the frame to put his team up by two goals. The Red Wings brought the game back to within a goal just 1:19 later.

The Maple Leafs again opened a two-goal lead when John Tavares scored at 7:47. Detroit responded just 2:24 later.

Late in the game, Mitch Marner's first goal of the season should have iced the game for Toronto. But Detroit scored again just 1:36 later.

Toronto's opponent didn't go away, or rather, they didn't put them away.

"To get results is good for sure," Maple Leafs head coach Sheldon Keefe said. "But as we see the way that third period goes with them continuing to get back in the game and continue to push, that's not good enough."

Despite snapping a four-game losing streak in Chicago on Wednesday, Keefe made a massive overhaul to his defense pairs ahead of their game against Detroit. They benched mid-pair defenseman Justin Holl and moved Travis Dermott up to the top set with Morgan Rielly. Muzzin skated with TJ Brodie, while Swedish defensemen Rasmus Sandin and Timothy Liljegren rounded out the bottom pair.

"We just thought 'let's shock the system here a little bit,'" Keefe said about the changes on defense.

The early returns on these changes were positive.

Sandin and Liljegren weren't afraid to make quick decisions in their own zone. When there was pressure, they were confident in each other's position on the ice.

They also jumped in on the rush effectively to help create chances offensively. Most importantly, they weren't on the ice for any goals against.

Muzzin and TJ Brodie appeared to fit alright on the second pair. The two played together for a few games toward the end of last season. They gave up just one even-strength goal while on the ice together.

Morgan Rielly, playing in his first game since inking an eight-year, $60 million contract extension on Friday and Travis Dermott were on for two even-strength goals against, but otherwise help a posession rating above 50 percent.

It's not clear if the Maple Leafs' defense played well enough to stick with those pairs for their next game on Tuesday at home to the Vegas Golden Knights, But Keefe has a somewhat easier job of being able to get his message across on Monday when the team reconvenes for practice.

"Maybe part of it is we just haven't had the lead late in games enough this season," Keefe said. "But we have enough experience on our team that we should be better than that.

 "Lots of good teaching points to come out it."

PP2 outperforming PP1

The Toronto Maple Leafs top power play unit continues to have a hard time executing. At the beginning of the team's road trip, Keefe has started giving the second power play unit more time on the ice..

Michael Bunting took advantage of that by scoring after a nice pass from Jason Spezza at 19:42 od the second period.

"Anytime there's loose puck, all five of us are hunting and retrieving it and that 's huge," Bunting explained. "Once you start retrieving pucks, it just shifts their box and makes them have some mistakes. 

"So that's exactly what happened on my goal. The big man Ritch [Nick Ritchie] was able to fight off a few guys. I just came on here and poked it out and they lost their position and Spezz [Jason Spezza] found me right back. So that's what works."

The quality of scoring changes from the second power-play unit has increased over the past week. PP1 has experimented by moving Marner off the bumper and back to the flank. But it has yet to yield goals.

Marner scores

Marner finally got the monkey off his back and scored his first goal since the second-last game of last season on May 8.

"It hasn't come as easy for him production wise, but his game is still so effective and solid for us in so many areas," Tavares said of Marner. "Eventually he was going to break out and it was just great to see him get it. Just happy to see it. He deserved that one."

Marner looked more confident on home ice on Saturday. Scoring should help the Thornhill, Ontario native build his confidence up. 

Tavares led the Leafs with a goal and two assists.

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