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Determined Red Wings will hold no surprises for the Maple Leafs, Keefe says

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Upon further video review, the Detroit Red Wings are playing at a highly competitive level and will be a handful for the Maple Leafs on Saturday night.

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That was a theme in the message Leafs coach Sheldon Keefe was imparting on his players at team meetings on Saturday morning, hours before the Leafs meet Detroit to kick off a five-game homestand at Scotiabank Arena.

And Keefe had some recent film as evidence. Late in the third period of the Wings’ game against the Florida Panthers in Detroit on Friday, the Wings threw their bodies in front of at least five shots for blocks in a pressure-filled sequence that lasted nearly a minute.

The desire to sacrifice kept the score at 2-1 for Florida, and the Wings managed to tie the game before losing 3-2 in overtime. Their overall record of 4-2-2, which has them in third place in the Atlantic Division, brings respect from their Original Six rivals in Toronto.

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“There is going to be no surprise for us,” Keefe said. “They are full marks for the results they’ve had. They’re in every game, they’re carrying playing a lot of games, they are getting their scoring chances. They’re a committed group that’s playing hard and wants to have a great season and they want to push to win and compete in games.

“We saw the sequence they had last night. It’s a really quick snapshot of the type of mindset that Detroit has in terms of how they are playing with a ton of urgency and competing at a high level early in the season. They’re not going to make it easy on us, for sure.”

The Leafs? Well, we know where they are sitting. It’s not pretty, as a come-from-behind overtime win in Chicago on Wednesday against the Blackhawks brought Toronto’s record to 3-4-1. Just eight games, sure, but it’s a mark that is well-below expectations, both inside the organization and on the outside.

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Struggling defenceman Justin Holl will sit, but it’s team defence as a whole that has been bugging Keefe.

“We have had far too many guys getting behind us,” Keefe said. “This team is going to challenge us in that area.

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“Our forwards have to help the cause. That’s a big piece when we looked at a lot of the improvements we made throughout last season defensively. Our D played a great role in that, but our forwards were contributing greatly. Any team that defends well, it does so in a group of five.

“We’ve got some defencemen that haven’t played to the level that we would like them to be or what we’ve come to expect. But at the same time, they don’t have the same level of support. We’ve got to get far more connected as a team defensively.”

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The play of defenceman Jake Muzzin has been unusually ineffective, and the veteran was one of a handful of Leafs to take part in the optional skate on Saturday.

“For a guy that’s been so good for so long, you have confidence that he’s going to find it,” Keefe said. “We’re talking him through it, reassuring him, pushing him, challenging him. He doesn’t need too much of that because he’s a very self-aware guy and takes a lot of pride in his game and the role that he plays for us.”

Timothy Liljegren draws in on the blue line and will play with Rasmus Sandin. The other new pairs will feature Morgan Rielly with Travis Dermott and Muzzin with TJ Brodie.

“I haven’t made any guarantees to Hollsy in terms of whether he’s going to go right back in or not,” Keefe said. “We’re just going to watch them play. If this turns into a healthy competition on our back end, that’ll be good for everybody.”

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One defenceman who has been relatively solid is Sandin, who had an extra spring in his step on Saturday morning. His father, Patric, arrived from Sweden on Friday and will be in Toronto for the next five games.

“It’s great to have some family here and them being able to come to Toronto again,” Sandin said.

Petr Mrazek will start in goal for the Leafs, his first game since suffering a groin injury on Oct. 14 in Ottawa.

It’s expected that Thomas Greiss, who has a 3-1-0 record and .917 save percentage in four games, will be in net for the Wings.

In eight career games against the Leafs, Greiss has a record of 4-3-1 and a .909 save percentage.

Meanwhile, the Leafs were dealt another blow to their forward depth when Michael Amadio was claimed off waivers by the Vegas Golden Knights on Saturday.

The loss of Amadio follows the recent loss of Adam Brooks to Montreal on waivers. Another depth option for the Leafs, Nick Robertson, currently is off the table as the 20-year-old winger recovers from a broken leg suffered in a game with the Toronto Marlies.

The Golden Knights’ next game just happens to be in Toronto against the Leafs on Tuesday.

tkoshan@postmedia.com

twitter.com/koshtorontosun

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