In the middle of another third period that the Toronto Maple Leafs would not win, Sheldon Keefe looked up and down his listless bench and decided that a day off would do him some good.
“I think our group looks tired again here today,” said the coach, his tone becoming increasingly dissatisfied as this road trip goes on.
“It looked like we hit a wall there and stopped playing for a good while in that third round. No life on our bench at the time, no energy when we needed it. So it exhausted me.” is a sign.”
Show us the NHL team that hasn’t had to go through quarantines, injuries, and herky-jerky schedule switches, and we’ll show you a government pandemic plan that pleases all citizens.
Keefe’s crew isn’t unique in that the Leafs were rolling through December in a groove, only to break out of rhythm from postponed dates, forced house arrests, a fan-less home rink and uneven competition.
In 2022, the Leafs went from easy games against the Ottawa and Edmonton rosters to high-tempo showdowns against Colorado and Vegas before losing 2-1 to the tanking Arizona Coyotes in the second half of back-to-back Wednesdays.
“I start to wonder about our conditioning and where we are there. But clearly, we have to find ways to get up at the right time at the right time, not fall flat,” challenged Keefe.
The coach wanted his goalkeeper, Petr Marzek, to make another big save after a 32-day layoff from playing action. And he wanted his skaters to hit hard with two points for a late catch.
So: how do these cards get back in motion?
“Play more games,” Keefe said. “Conditioning improves. Speed improves. [You get] used to grind and push him.”
hockey with hockey
All Keefe could do, he credits only Coyotes goalkeeper Karel Vejmelka for the first-star’s performance and progress.
This would be a force all night, animalistic Austin Matthews’ favorite narrative.
“We really controlled the game for the most part of the game,” Mathews said. “Sometimes you just run into a hot goalie, and you have to tip your hat to him.”
That’s how Timothy Lilzegren saw things: “Their goalkeeper’s night was incredible, and it wasn’t our night.”
The Leafs probably didn’t deserve to swipe three out of four points in Colorado and Vegas to start the journey; They certainly didn’t deserve to exit the Gila River Arena with Zero.
Toronto trailed the Coyotes 46-18, leading them 48-23, and scored 5.89 expected goals in Arizona’s 2.07.
The Leafs started the competition with 10 shots on back-to-back power plays, but came up empty in the first period.
TV viewers in various parts could double-check the score bug to see if Toronto was back on the power-play as the puck barely left the Yeats zone at 5-on-5.
The shots were 15-2 for the visitors when Ryan Jingel, playing his first game since December 10, dropped a flapping puck behind Marzek and spilled the first blood.
“Clearly didn’t make good on our chances,” Keefe said. “We generated more than enough to score a lot more than we did. But didn’t execute and found ways to make it harder on our goalkeeper once he got into the groove.”
Mathews is about to do Mathews
Toronto’s only goal came in the first minute of the third period but on the 36th shot of the night.
Matthews stripped off his patented raster top-shelf and cleared Vejmelka, giving him goals in nine consecutive road games (11 total), a Maple Leafs record.
“He continues to do this,” says John Tavares. “The teams are clearly game-planning for him, and his ability to take on the challenge, look forward to that challenge, adapt his game and find different ways to create opportunities.
“Not surprising, setting a franchise record like this. When it’s all said and done, he’ll have plenty.”
Check which net. is in
A relative unknown, Vejmelka is a 25-year-old import whose NHL.com headshot is just a silhouette of a goalie mask.
He appeared in seven Czech Pro seasons before coming to this side of the pond to experience Arizona’s rebuilding.
The big rookie (six-foot-four, 224 pounds) has played good hockey in relatively obscurity, entering Wednesday’s game with the weakest goal support in the league (1.56 goals per game support).
have maple leafs Four Players with more points—Matthews, Tavares, William Nylander, Morgan Reilly—than Arizona’s top scorer (Clayton Keller, 26).
So, it makes sense that the Coyotes would need to make a 2-1 decision to give Vejmelka the win.
The touch on this Tavares lob goes to Nylander…
“It’s mostly instinctive at the moment and probably getting a good sense of how to play with Willie,” explains Tavares.
“Willie just has a pretty good idea of when to take advantage and pull the ice when the puck turns – and he can read that play. So, it’s up to me to try to find him and every Get it in the best way possible.
“Hopefully next time it can result in a goal.”
a prior card on each row
The ghosts of the Maple Leafs cut boards with every coyotes shift.
Spanning four different lines, the names Travis Boyd, Phil Kessel, Riley Nash and Alex Galchenyuk brought back memories for Leafs Nation.
Galchenyuk assisted in revenge on Jingel’s winner, the second day of the night, and a rare Rush goal for the Coyotes.
But the contract year was the most noticeable of the Cassel bunch, thrilled by some aggressive outbursts that had “business bait” written all over them.
Toronto is on the verge of full health, after all
It only took up to 35 games, but it appears the Maple Leafs will have a 100 percent healthy lineup for Saturday’s stint in St.
Mitch Marner and Pierre Angwall (COVID Protocol) are set to join the club in Arizona on Thursday, and should be available to practice on Friday and – if medical gives the green light – play on Saturday.
That’s bad news for Nick Ritchie, who already approved a waiver last week and could lay off the active roster until needed.
Marner and Angwall immediately improve Toronto’s penalty kill, and Angwall improves on the fourth line’s pace, strength and defensive responsibility.
Yes, Matthews had no problem producing in Marner’s absence, but defensively the Leafs are a more porous group.
“Two big impact players. Guys who are a key part of our lineup,” Tavares says. “Michi is one of the best wingers in the league and plays in every position for us, a guy we trust and you know, and Pierre continues to mature and make an impact for us.”