Veleno scores in season debut but Red Wings fall to Maple Leafs

Ted Kulfan
The Detroit News

Toronto — This time the Red Wings couldn't complete the comeback from two goals behind, as they had done twice this week.

But they sure came close.

The Wings fell 5-4 Saturday to the Toronto Maple Leafs, twice slicing a two-goal Toronto lead to one goal in the third period thanks to a goal and assist from Joe Veleno, just recalled earlier in the day — but not being able to tie the score.

Maple Leafs defenseman Jake Muzzin (8) celebrates with teammates after scoring past Red Wings goaltender Thomas Greiss (29) during the first period.

"We didn't go away but we don't want to be just close," Red Wings coach Jeff Blashill said. "Ultimately we were just too loose defensively. We kept grinding, we did create chances, but we don't want to trade chance for chance with a team as talented as Toronto is."

Toronto's Mitch Marner converted a misplay between goaltender Thomas Greiss and defenseman Nick Leddy, poking the puck past Greiss at 17 minutes, 55 seconds of the third period — Marner's first goal this season — giving the Leafs a 5-3 lead.

But the Wings stayed with it, and with Greiss pulled, Filip Hronek slapped a shot through a screen, cutting the lead to 5-4 with 28 seconds remaining.

But the defensive issues throughout the night cost the Red Wings the game.

"Lot of credit to them, they're a real offensive team and when they are on the attack they're hard to handle," Blashill said. "We did a poor job in our defensive zone, and they make it hard on you, and we didn't hold our lines well enough so they were in our end a lot.

"We had chances to win the hockey game but we just have to find a way to win."

Filip Zadina (power play), Veleno and Vladislav Namestnikov also scored for the Wings.

But it was Veleno who sparked the Wings in the third period.

Veleno was playing in his first NHL game this season after being recalled from Grand Rapids — Veleno drove the four hours to Toronto with general manager Steve Yzerman — cut the Leafs lead to 3-2 at 1:36 of the third period, just a little over a minute after Toronto had taken a two -goal lead.

Yzerman was planning to drive to Toronto, and Veleno figured that was a better option than getting a commercial flight to Toronto given the time frame. Veleno found out he was Detroit-bound late Friday and left Grand Rapids early Saturday morning.

Still, it could be a little daunting spending that much time in the car with your boss, who also happens to be a Hall of Fame hockey player.

"We talked some hockey, there was the Michigan-Michigan State football game, we had that on the radio for a little bit," Veleno said. "I ended up sleeping a little bit, I was tired. But we talked a bit. It was nice of him to drive me to the game.

"I was a little shy, I wasn't sure what to talk about, but once I got to spend a little time in the car I got a little more comfortable. He's a real good person and real easy to talk to. He made the drive fairly easy."

Veleno showed the offensive skills, and defensive presence, in the third period to be another useful young player in the lineup.

"That was my mentality tonight, I wanted to work hard and show what I could bring at this level, and how I can play," Veleno said. "But at the same time I wanted to play with confidence and have some fun and I tried my best to do those things and be successful."

Michael Rasmussen got the puck behind the net and fed Veleno in front, who quickly snapped a shot past Leafs goalie Petr Mrazek.

BOX SCORE: Maple Leafs 5, Red Wings 4

Blashill liked what he saw out of Veleno in the final 20 minutes.

"He was good in the third," Blashill said. "Certainly the way he played in the third gives a coach confidence to put him out there. That's a good step."

Veleno appeared energized after his goal, with several fine shifts, then set up Namestnikov at 10:11, cutting the Toronto lead to 4-3.

MORE: Red Wings recall Joe Veleno from Grand Rapids with Tyler Bertuzzi unavailable

Veleno was recalled after Tyler Bertuzzi was unavailable to play in Canada because he's unvaccinated, and Adam Erne was hurt Friday.

John Tavares had a three-point night for the Leafs, spurring Toronto.

Tavares notched his third point of the night, and first goal, converting on a 2-on-1 rush with Alex Kerfoot at 7:47, giving Toronto a 4-2 lead at the time.

Kerfoot had given the Leafs the 3-1 lead, scoring 17 seconds into the third period.

Michael Bunting (power play) and Jake Muzzin added Toronto goals, both scoring in the waning seconds of the first two periods.

ted.kulfan@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @tkulfan