Detroit — The young players on the Red Wings are learning and Thursday they learned quite a bit.
In a 5-3 loss to the powerful Toronto Maple Leafs, the Wings learned you can’t let up for a period and expect to defeat one of the best teams in the NHL.
They learned you have stay disciplined and not give Toronto opportunities on the power play.
They learned, up close, how truly good Auston Matthews, John Tavares, Mitch Marner, and a lot of other Leafs are.
A lot of lessons, indeed.
BOX SCORE: Maple Leafs 5, Red Wings 3
The Wings twice cut the deficit to one in the third period, only to see Toronto rebound.
But it was the second period, when the Leafs outshot the Wings 15-5 and took a 3-1 lead by scoring twice, that changed this game around.
“You have to compete for 60 minutes in order to win,” Red Wings coach Jeff Blashill said. “In the second (period) we lost all the contested puck battles.
“Their skill players out-competed our skilled guys in the second and we didn’t have the puck enough. When we did have the puck, we missed the net on every shot we could. You have to hit the net to create chaos and create more zone time.
“When they scored (their first goal) we let momentum get away from us and we hoped to get the puck instead of competing like crazy to get pucks.”
Nick Jensen scored two goals and Dylan Larkin added the third, cutting the lead to 4-3 at 13 minutes, 58 seconds of the third period.
But Ron Hainsey scored an empty-net goal with 20 seconds left, salting the victory for Toronto (4-1-0).
The Wings (0-2-2) continue to search for their first victory.
“We have to have a short memory and learn from the game and be better tomorrow,” Blashill said. “We have to go into Boston with a singular focus to win the game. We’ve realized over four games when we play as hard as we’re capable of playing, we can have success.”
Toronto’s attack is eye-opening, and it was in full force against the Wings.
Matthews had two power-play goals to give him nine goals for the season — or as much as the Wings have as a team this season.
Tavares had four assists, Marner had a goal and two assists, and Morgan Rielly had a goal and assist.
Rielly, incidentally, added an assist to give him a league-high 12 points, the most for a modern day defenseman over the first five games of a season.
“They’ve been firing on all cylinders here early, and they have so many threats up front,” said defenseman Niklas Kronwall, who played his first game of the season, returning from a lower-body injury. “They have a lot of different ways they can score.”
The Leafs came into the game with the NHL’s best offense (now with 25 goals) and power play (5-for-10) and did nothing to diminish that statistic (2-for-4).
“They were 2-for-4 and we were 0-for-3, that’s a huge factor in the game, huge swing for sure,” Blashill said.
Jensen opened the scoring with his first goal since April 1, 2017, a span of 87 games.
Darren Helm found Jensen on the wing as the Wings capitalized on a 3-on-1 break at 7 minutes 18 seconds, Jensen blasting a shot past goalie Frederik Andersen.
Jensen then scored on his own rebound early in the third period, cutting the Leafs lead to 3-2.
Since being a healthy scratch in the season opener, Jensen has arguably been one of the Wings’ best defensemen.
“His back was against the wall and some people melt and some people rise to the occasion,” Blashill said. “He rose to the occasion and I expect him to continue to do that.”
Said Jensen: “That’s how it is in this league, you have the 800 best players in the world, and every day your mentality should be coming to the rink knowing someone is going after your spot. You have to earn that spot. I come into practice and games knowing that I have to earn that spot and it could be my last NHL game.
“That’s kind of my mentality each game and day.”