WINGS 5, LEAFS 4 (OT)
TORONTO — Maple Leafs head Mike Babcock expected William Nylander to be “the freshest guy in hockey” on Thursday night.
That was probably asking too much of a player making his season debut with zero practice time since ending a prolonged contract impasse with Toronto just last weekend.
The rest of Babcock’s team, which eventually showed signs of life after a lacklustre opening 40 minutes, didn’t really have an excuse.
Dylan Larkin scored at 2:48 of overtime as the Detroit Red Wings survived a blown three-goal lead in the third period to down the Leafs 5-4 and snap Toronto’s five-game winning streak.
“They were just better than us,” Babcock said. “They played harder.”
Nylander agreed to a six-year, US$45-million deal minutes before Saturday’s deadline for the restricted free agent to be eligible to play in the NHL this season.
He flew to Toronto on Sunday from Sweden, where he had been practising with a junior team, twice went through drills with a Leafs assistant coach and took part in Thursday’s brief morning skate.
Coming off consecutive 61-point seasons, the 22-year-old finished with 12 minutes 29 seconds of ice-time, but didn’t see any action in the game’s final 14:35.
“It has nothing to do with Willy, it has to do with me and trying to win the game,” Babcock said of the benching. “Any time you’ve missed that amount of hockey, it’s going to be hard.”
Nylander, who got a mostly warm reception when he stepped on the ice for his first shift, started on a line with Auston Matthews and Patrick Marleau before sitting.
“It felt OK,” Nylander said. “There’s a lot of differences from practising by yourself.”
In overtime, Larkin moved in on a breakaway and beat Garret Sparks on a deke.