Wings beat Maple Leafs; Zetterberg's knee is 'fine'
Detroit — Anthony Mantha scored the winning goal and offseason free agent acquisition Thomas Vanek’s terrific passes provided assists on two other goals as the Red Wings beat the Toronto Maple Leafs, 4-3, Saturday in the final NHL preseason game at Joe Louis Arena.
Frans Nielsen, the Wings' major free-agent acquisition started at center between Henrik Zetterberg, who returned from an offseason knee injury on the eve of his 36th birthday, and Tomas Tatar.
Nielsen played a strong game, including a brilliant backcheck directly in front of goalie Petr Mrazek, as a Maple Leafs forward busted out behind the Wings defense in the first period.
Zetterberg looked good, and pronounced the knee “fine” after the game. He assisted on the Wings’ second goal, by Dylan Larkin.
The Red Wings, who finished 6-1-1 in preseason, including 3-0-1 at home, made a flurry of personnel moves Saturday. But with Mantha stating his case and Andreas Athanasiou flying around, often ahead of the Maple Leafs defenders, some interesting roster choices remain.
Athanasiou was often a stride or more ahead of Leafs defenders, and was credited with one shot and one hit in 14:19 on the ice.
Mantha scored on his only shot and also got one hit, in 11:39 of play.
He also asserted after the game that the goal likely went in off of his center for the night, Riley Sheahan.
Coach Jeff Blashill said that both young players — they are both 22 years-old — can play better.
“Well, he scored the goal,” Blashill said of Mantha. “I didn’t think him or Double-A (Athanasiou) were good enough, though, to be honest with you.
“They’ve got to be better than that. These are big games for those guys, and they’ve got to be better. I told the young guys in camp to slap me in the face and tell me you’re better than other options.
“It can’t be a period,” Blashill said. “It’s got to be 60 minutes. But, with that said, I thought they picked it up in the third.”
Blashill said pace, “moving your feet,” and puck battles are keys for both players.
“I’ll tell you the guy tonight who was great, for me, was Nyquist,” the coach said.
Gustav Nyquist opened the scoring for the Red Wings, after taking a sweet pass from Vanek, at 1:46 of the first period, and then assisting with Vanek — who delivered another fine pass — on Brendan Smith’s goal. It was the third for Wings, putting them up 3-1 with 15 seconds left in the second period.
“He was on the puck, he created turnovers, he moved his feet, he won battles,” Blashill said. “That’s how you have to play to be successful in the NHL.
“That’s a great example, right there, of what it takes.”
Blashill also said Vanek and Nielsen had good first games of the preseason, and in their careers for the Red Wings, after playing in the World Cup of Hockey and taking the mandatory five days off.
“I thought it was a good first game for those guys,” Blashill said. “I think not knowing all the systems totally, they were introduced to certain parts of the system, but not everything — it’s a little bit uncomfortable.
“I think Vanek did the things he has to do to be successful,” he said. “He made some real, real offensive plays. I thought for the most part on defense he did the things he needs to do."
Dylan Larkin scored between Nyquist and Smith at 8:11 of the first period on the power play, with the Wings playing five-on-three.
Zach Hyman, the former Michigan star, opened the scoring for Mike Babcock’s Maple Leafs at 16:49 of the second period. The first draft choice of 2016, Auston Matthews assisted.
The Red Wings got significantly sloppy at the start of the third and it cost them, with William Nylander scoring at 29 seconds, and Matthews picked up another assist.
Just 22 seconds later, Brooks Laich, the former Capitals forward, scored, tying the score at 3.
About 10 minutes later, Mantha put his team ahead for good with a wrist shot from the right circle that made it through the legs of two players out front before slipping by the Leafs’ goalie Frederick Andersen, just along his left pad.
“I think I played good,” Mantha said. “Maybe tonight I had a few shifts where I was flat-footed.
“But throughout the exhibition games, I think I was good. I was skating, hard on pucks and I just gave what I could give.”
Asked what he will do if the Wings send him back down to the AHL to play in Grand Rapids, Mantha did not miss a beat.
“Well, I’ll just head back to G.R. and have a great season down there,” he said. “Obviously, if they call me up I’ll be ready. If I start here, I’ll be ready. So, let’s just see what’s going to happen in the next few days.”
Zetterberg said he felt “OK, for a first game.”
“It was nice to get this in,” he said. “It would have been tough to go straight into Tampa.
“I was pleased I could come back.”
He said his knee, injured in offseason training before the start of the World Cup of Hockey, felt fine during and after the game.
“So far, good. I thought it was, overall, a good game on that. Maybe didn’t play that many minutes, but it was good minutes.”
Of the team, he said, “It was sloppy once in a while there for us. But we found a way to win.
“I think Vanek was probably the best guy today. He made some nice plays. Petr (Mrazek) was very good.”
Mrazek stopped 29 of 32 shots, and looked sharp throughout the game for his second win of the preseason.
The Wings finished with 23 shots.