Nylander set to make season debut for Leafs vs. Wings
TORONTO -- William Nylander said he is ready to make his season debut with the Toronto Maple Leafs on Thursday night against the Detroit Red Wings.
"Yeah, I'll be playing tomorrow," Nylander told the Toronto Sun on Tuesday during the team's annual Christmas visit to Toronto's Hospital for Sick Children.
The right winger had been a holdout as a restricted free agent season before re-signing with the Maple Leafs on a six-year deal.
The Maple Leafs did not have a regular practice Wednesday after defeating the Sabres 4-3 in overtime Tuesday night in Buffalo. It was the fifth win in a row for the Maple Leafs.
The speculation has been that Maple Leafs coach Mike Babcock wanted to see him in a full practice before he was returned to active duty Saturday in Boston.
"It's great, that's awesome," said teammate Zach Hyman when told what Nylander had said.
The Maple Leafs (20-8-0) will be meeting a battered Red Wings team that lost 6-5 in a shootout Tuesday night at home to the Tampa Bay Lightning.
"We played a pretty good game, we gave them a hard game," said Gustav Nyquist, who scored twice. "A shootout, we had a 4-on-3 chance (power play) in overtime, and shootouts are a coin flip, it can go either way. We should have finished this one off."
The Red Wings (12-12-4) lost defenseman Danny DeKeyser to a hand injury during the game when he was hit by a shot from the Lightnings Steve Stamkos.
"He'll be out for multiple weeks," Red Wings coach Jeff Blashill said.
"It's a big loss for sure," Red Wings defenseman Niklas Kronwall said. "He logs a lot of minutes, plays in a lot of defensive situations, plays against teams' top lines every night. It's a big loss for us, for sure."
The Red Wings also have lost Anthony Mantha for up to six weeks to a hand injury suffered in a fight Sunday. He had surgery Tuesday afternoon. Tyler Bertuzzi will be serving the second game of a two-game suspension on Thursday.
Despite the adversity, the Red Wings felt they had a chance to beat the Lightning and had a two-goal lead.
"We passed up some shots," Blashill said. "We had outnumbered rushes where we could have shot the puck, tried to make a play or two."
The Red Wings are 2-1-1 in their past four games.
Maple Leafs center Auston Matthews continued his prolific scoring, even as he continues to find his skating legs, since missing 15 games with a shoulder injury. He had two goals and an assist Tuesday, including the overtime winner.
He has five goals and two assists in three games since returning from the injury.
Matthews said he feels "a little bit" better as he plays more games following his return.
Both Matthews and the team had some trouble getting into gear at the start.
"I think (in) the first period, as a team they had us hemmed in there for the first 12 or 13 minutes and we started to push back," Matthews said. "For myself, that first period, it took me a while to get my legs going. In the second and third I felt a lot better. I know it's not going to come back immediately, but I think game-by-game I start to feel more and more like myself. That second and third definitely felt a lot better."
"If you know him, and I don't want to take anything away, he got two goals tonight, but, obviously his skating and his conditioning are -- there's nothing you can do until you play," said Babcock, a former Red Wings coach. "The more he plays and the more he gets through it, the better he's going to be. That ability to keep pushing when you're in a battle -- it's tough -- the ability to keep your legs going. Any time you've been off, it's going to take you some time. He knows that, but he's a good enough player that he's obviously helping us in the meantime."
The Maple Leafs defeated the Red Wings 5-3 in Detroit on Oct. 11.
Updated December 6, 2018