One hundred years of history, one hundred years of true blue sports fandom, will be celebrated tonight as the NHL’s Toronto Maple Leafs will host their ancient rivals, the Detroit Red Wings in the NHL Centennial Classic.
The Leafs will want to not only get a fifth straight win for the first time in over two years today, New Year’s Day, but also win for the crest they wear with pride, and for their fans as they play outside, in the open air on home ice. That’s why they are -155 betting favourites today and a solid bet to make.
Toronto is coming off a great road trip, having gone unbeaten on a four-game stint, that they wrapped up on Thursday with a 3-2 overtime win in Tampa Bay against the mighty Lightning, despite being a +116 betting underdog. That gave Toronto a chance to win a playoff spot in the Atlantic Division, and it should bode well for them if they can win Sunday afternoon’s game at Exhibition Stadium.
It seems that good food and friends during the holiday season proved to be just what the doctored ordered for the Maple Leafs, who didn’t have such a positive early December, going 4-6-4 in 14 games which included six home losses. They had only won consecutively twice, in their last 19 outings.
The Leafs though seem like they have recovered and were on fire on their recent road trip. They outscored their opponents by a 16-5 margin. Netminder Frederik Andersen stopped 114 of 117 shots in wins over Colorado, Arizona, and Florida, before he let back up Antoine Bibeau take over the crease, who got his first NHL win against the Lightning on Thursday.
Detroit, is a +140 underdog in today’s game, and has had its odds to win the Stanley Cup severely fall since they opened the season. The Red Wings did win in Ottawa though in a 3-2 victory as +130 underdogs, which gave them their fifth win in their past five road games. But overall, it’s been quite a disappointing season for Detroit, who are npw 10-14-4 in their 28 games since opening the season on a stellar 6-2-0 run.
Detroit has not had a lot of success in games with division rivals, it’s only claimed a victory in five of its past 17 clashes with Atlantic teams, not being able to stick together two wins against division rivals since last March. But the Red Wings have had success as the road team in several outdoor games, which included a 5-3 win over the Colorado Avalanche last February, and a 6-4 win over the Blackhawks at Wrigley Field in 2009.
Detroit also plays really well against their foes, Toronto. They have won three of its last four games against the Leafs, which included a pair of one-goal wins the last two times they visited Toronto, but if you look back to outdoor games against the Leafs, they lost 3-2 in shootout when they played outdoor last time, at Michigan Stadium on New Year’s Day back in 2014. So they will be looking for revenge.
The Red Wings want a feel good victory after their disappoiting record. The Wings are only averaging 2.3 goals per game and are just 12 percent of their power play. Young star, Dylan Larkin has the scoring leads in Detroit with 10 goals, and teammates Frans Nielsen has 11 assists. and Tomas Tatar has 75 shots on goal, so they should be the ones to watch out for today. 4
Defensively, Detroit is giving up 2.8 goals per game and are killing only 82 percent of their opponents power plays. Goalie Petr Mrazek has given up 59 goals on 567 shots faced, and back up Jimmy Howard has let in 28 goals on 426 shots. Today should be a higher scoring game since the Red Wings have allowed three or more goals in 10 of their last 12 games, and that trend should continue.
The Leafs are hot, averaging 2.9 goals per game and are scoring on 20 percent of their power play chances. Star center, Auston Matthews is leading Toronto with 18 goals, James van Riemsdyk has 12 assists and Nazem Kadri has 110 shots on goal and had the overtime winner on Thursday night.
Defensively, the Leafs need to be better and though they are allowing 2.7 goals per game, they are killing 84.9 percent of their opponents power plays but they can kill more. The real defensive star has been their goalie, Andersen who has only given up 71 goals on 945 shots faced, since he hasn’t gotten a lot of support from back up Jhonas Enroth, who has allowed 18 goals on 141 shots. When they allow less than three goals, the Leafs have won eight straight games, so that is what they’ll have to do tonight.
More stats: The Wings are 1-4 in their last 5 Sunday games and 4-1 in their last 5 road games. The Leafs are 1-5 in their last 6 home games and 4-1 in their last 5 games playing on 2 days rest. Overall, the Wings are 5-2 in the last 7 meetings in Toronto so the Leafs will want to reverse that trend.
And they can do that if they build off their four straight road wins and use that confidence. They need to take advantage of the face that the Wings are continuing to have issues defensively and haven’t won back-to-back games against division teams in 10 months. But stranger things have happened in outdoor games, but the Leafs still are in better shape overall, and a lot more to celebrate than Detroit at the moment, so we’ll give them the edge to start the new year off on the right skate.