Red Wings vs. Maple Leafs: 4 things to know

Andreas Athanasiou of the Detroit Red Wings battles with Patrick Marleau of the Toronto Maple Leafs for the puck during the third period at Little Caesars Arena on October 11, 2018 in Detroit, Michigan. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

DETROIT - The Detroit Red Wings and Toronto Maple Leafs play Thursday night in Toronto. 

Game time: 7 p.m.

Here are four things to know ahead of the game: 

1. William Nylander is back

Nylander finally signed a contract with Toronto after a holdout that lasted until just minutes before the 5 p.m. Saturday deadline. The 22-year-old forward is expected to be in Mike Babcock's lineup Thursday night. He'll likely line up next to Auston Matthews, with whom he played this past season. 

Nylander scored 20 goals and 41 assists through 82 games played this past season. He is expected to be a major offensive threat for the Leafs, who are actually doing quite fine without him as they sit in 2nd place in the Eastern Conference. Adding another weapon makes them a real contender. 

The Leafs moved Josh Leivo to make room for Nylander, but the team will run into cap issues in the offseason nonetheless. 

2. Red Wings need a big win

The Red Wings have been turning some heads over the past month as they've successfully climbed back to .500 (12-12-4). Jeff Blashill's group has shown a real desire to be more than a doormat this season. They strung together a good November track record with consecutive wins against the Boston Bruins, a team they have struggled against in recent history.

However, Detroit has not been able to beat some of the league's top teams -- they lost to the Washington Capitals, 3-1, the Buffalo Sabres, 3-2, the Columbus Blue Jackets, 7-5, the Colorado Avalanche, 2-0, and the Tampa Bay Lightning, 6-5 in a shootout. The Red Wings have not been able to find any kind of consistency, and that's why they're now 4-4-2 in their past 10 games. 

A win against their biggest division rival -- a rivalry invigorated by Mike Babcock's move to Toronto -- would be absolutely massive for this Detroit squad. 

3. Injuries mounting for Detroit

The Red Wings will have to get that win without some of their top players. Forward Anthony Mantha is out for weeks with an injured hand. Forward Darren Helm is out indefinitely with an upper body injury. 

Defensemen Trevor Daley and Dan DeKeyser also are out of the lineup with injuries. That means defenseman Brian Lashoff, who has been playing in the AHL all season, will return to the Detroit lineup Thursday night. Lashoff hasn't played a NHL game since Nov. 17, 2017, his only NHL game of the 2017-18 season. He's getting another shot at resurrecting his NHL career. 

On top of those injuries, Tyler Bertuzzi will be serving the second of a two-game suspension for punching an Avalanche player while on the bench this past weekend. Mantha and Bertuzzi are two of Detroit's top offensive players. Frans Nielsen and Gustav Nyquist stepped up in their absence against the Lightning with a combined 5 goals. Detroit will need that kind of depth scoring to continue, especially against the high-powered Maple Leafs. 

4. The Leafs lose more at home than on the road

That's something to consider. If the Red Wings are going to upset the Leafs, they're more likely to do it in Toronto, where the Leafs have a 9-5-0 record as opposed to their 11-3-0 road record. 

It's something, right? 

These teams have four meetings this season. The Leafs took the first meeting on Oct. 11, 5-3, in Toronto. After Thursday, the teams won't meet again until Dec. 23 and then lastly on Feb. 1

Starting goalies

It's a backup goalie battle Thursday night: 

  • Jonathan Bernier likely gets the start for Detroit. Bernier is 3-6 with a .898 save percentage. 
  • Garrett Sparks is in for Toronto. Sparks is 4-1 with a .924 save percentage. 

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