In the course of one other third interval the Toronto Maple Leafs wouldn’t win, Sheldon Keefe seemed up and down his listless bench and determined a time without work would do them some good.
“I believe our group appears to be like drained right here once more at this time,” mentioned the coach, his tone rising more and more dissatisfied as this street journey wears on.
“It appeared like we hit a wall there and stopped taking part in for chunk of time in that third interval. No life, no vitality on our bench at a time after we wanted it. In order that, to me, is an indication of fatigue.”
Present us the NHL group that hasn’t needed to deke via quarantines, accidents and herky-jerky schedule switches, and we’ll present you a authorities pandemic plan that pleases all residents.
Keefe’s crew isn’t distinctive in that the Leafs have been rolling via December in a groove solely to get blindsided out of rhythm by postponed dates, pressured home arrests, a fan-less residence rink, and uneven competitors.
In 2022, the Leafs went from simple video games towards depleted Ottawa and Edmonton rosters to high-tempo showdowns towards Colorado and Vegas previous to shedding 2-1 to the tanking Arizona Coyotes in Wednesday’s second half of a back-to-back.
“Makes me begin to surprise about our conditioning and the place we’re at there. However clearly, we have to search out methods to be rising to the event on the proper instances reasonably than falling flat,” Keefe challenged.
The coach needed his goalie, Petr Mrazek, to make yet another huge save after a 32-day layoff from sport motion. And he needed his skaters to press tougher with two factors nonetheless up for grabs late.
So: How do these Leafs get again up to the mark?
“Play extra video games,” Keefe mentioned. “Conditioning improves. Tempo improves. [You get] used to grinding via it, pushing via it.”
Hockey gonna hockey
What Keefe might’ve performed is solely credit score Coyotes goaltender Karel Vejmelka for a first-star efficiency and transfer on.
That may be the popular narrative of the beastly Auston Matthews, a power all evening.
“We actually managed the play for essentially the most a part of the sport,” Matthews mentioned. “Typically you simply run right into a sizzling goalie, and you bought to tip your hat to him.”
That’s the way in which Timothy Liljegren considered issues too: “Their goalie had an unbelievable evening, and it simply wasn’t our evening.”
The Leafs in all probability didn’t should swipe three of 4 factors in Colorado and Vegas to start out the journey; they undoubtedly didn’t should stroll out of Gila River Area with zero.
Toronto outshot the Coyotes 46-18, outchanced them 48-23, and generated 5.89 anticipated objectives to Arizona’s 2.07.
The Leafs kicked off the competition with 10 photographs on back-to-back energy performs however got here up empty within the first interval.
At numerous stretches the TV viewer would possibly double-check the rating bug to see if Toronto was again on a power-play as a result of the puck hardly left the Yotes’ zone at 5-on-5.
The photographs have been 15-2 for the guests when Ryan Dzingel, taking part in his first sport since Dec. 10, tipped a fluttering puck previous Mrazek and drew first blood.
“Clearly did not make good on our possibilities,” Keefe mentioned. “We generated greater than sufficient to attain excess of we did. However did not execute and discover methods to make it tougher on their goaltender as soon as he bought in a groove.”
Matthews gonna Matthews
Toronto’s lone aim arrived within the first minute of the third interval however on its thirty sixth shot of the evening.
Matthews sniped his patented pulled wrister top-shelf and clear previous Vejmelka, giving him objectives in 9 consecutive street video games (11 complete), a Maple Leafs document.
“He continues to make it occur,” John Tavares says. “Groups clearly are game-planning for him, and his potential to boost to the problem, stay up for that problem, adapt his sport and discover other ways to create alternatives.
“Not stunning, hitting a franchise document like that. When it is all mentioned and performed, he is gonna have fairly a number of.”
Czech who’s in internet
A relative unknown, Vejmelka is a 25-year-old import whose NHL.com headshot is only a silhouette of a goalie masks.
He appeared in seven Czech professional seasons earlier than coming to this aspect of the pond to expertise the Arizona rebuild.
The large rookie (six-foot-four, 224 kilos) has performed respectable hockey in relative obscurity, getting into Wednesday’s sport with the weakest aim help within the league (1.56 objectives per sport help).
The Maple Leafs have 4 gamers — Matthews, Tavares, William Nylander, Morgan Rielly — with extra factors than Arizona’s highest scorer (Clayton Keller, 26).
So, it is sensible that the Coyotes would wish to squeak out a 2-1 choice to get Vejmelka a win.
The contact on this Tavares lob move to Nylander…
“It is simply largely intuition within the second and doubtless simply getting understanding of taking part in with Willy,” Tavares explains.
“Willy’s simply bought nice anticipation of when to take benefit and stretching the ice when the puck turns over — and he can learn that play. So, it is as much as me to attempt to discover him and get it to him no matter manner potential.
“Hopefully subsequent time it may end up in a aim.”
An ex-Leaf on each line
A ghost of Maple Leafs previous hopped the boards with each Coyotes shift.
Unfold throughout 4 completely different strains, the names Travis Boyd, Phil Kessel, Riley Nash, and Alex Galchenyuk took turns bringing again reminiscences for Leafs Nation.
Galchenyuk picked up a revenge help on Dzingel’s winner, his second of the evening and a uncommon rush aim for the Coyotes.
However Contract Yr Kessel was essentially the most noticeable of the bunch, thrilling with a few offensive bursts that had “commerce bait” written throughout them.
Toronto is getting ready to full well being, lastly
It solely took till 35 video games, however it seems the Maple Leafs could have a 100 per cent wholesome lineup for Saturday’s tilt in St. Louis.
Mitch Marner and Pierre Engvall (COVID protocol) are set to affix the membership in Arizona on Thursday, a time without work, and ought to be out there to practise Friday and — if medical offers the inexperienced mild — play Saturday.
This spells dangerous information for Nick Ritchie, who already cleared waivers final week and will slide off the energetic roster till wanted.
Marner and Engvall immediately make Toronto’s penalty kill higher, and Engvall improves the fourth line’s pace, power and defensive duty.
Sure, Matthews has had no subject producing in Marner’s absence, however defensively the Leafs are a extra porous group.
“Two huge influence gamers. Guys which can be key components of our lineup,” Tavares says. “Mitchy is among the finest wingers within the league and performs in each scenario for us, a man we depend on and you already know, and Pierre continues to mature and make an influence for us.”