Monday, January 17, 2022

Maple Leafs beat last-placed Coyotes, goalkeeper Vejmelka

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Who invited Karel Vejmalka to spoil the Big Maple Leafs homecoming party in Arizona?

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The Coyotes goaltender with the worst goal support in the NHL made 45 saves to ruin the evening for Auston Matthews, Michael Bunting and several other stunned Leafs, leaving the last-placed team 2–1 reverse.

Coach Sheldon Keefe, already frustrated by some sluggishness late on this road trip, let his team play two early power plays against the less-staffed Coyotes, falling behind and a weak goal after Matthews tied it in the third. left.

“Our power play had a chance to capture the game and failed to do so,” said a sour Keefe. “Our execution (overall) was not good enough. We earned enough to score a lot more than we did and didn’t make it hard once (Vejmelka) got into a groove. ,

The Leafs so far have a 1-1-1 record in the US Southwest and while the optics of giving the club a day off in the sun after a 7-23-3 loss to the club isn’t great, it’s a backlash. One ad after another is essential in this phase of the journey.

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“It’s going to be important,” Keefe said of his escape from the rink on Thursday.

“Our group looked tired again and in the third, it looked like we had hit a wall and stopped playing for a while. No life, no energy on our bench when we need it.

“It’s our third game and back-to-back and all that, but it makes me wonder about our conditioning and where we are. Clearly we have to find ways to get up instead of falling for opportunities.”

Quixotically, Keefe saw the solution as playing more games, which has been interrupted by the COVID-19 crisis with lengthy layoffs on the schedule.

“Conditioning improves, speed improves, you become accustomed to grinding through it.”

The Leafs ended the trip in St. Louis on Saturday, when Mitch Marner and Pierre Angwall would have been out of COVID-19 protocol.

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With loads of family and friends in the sparse crowd at the Gila River Arena, Matthews fired five shots through 15 minutes of mostly disappointing snow time, before stopping on a loose puck and burying 14 seconds in the third.

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It set a club record for nine consecutive road games, breaking ties with Bebe Dye, Frank Mahovlich and Daniel Marois during one century.

“I would have clearly won,” Mathews said of the record and his 24th goal this season.

“But I have to give credit to the guys in my line.”

Bunting, a left winger, is where his NHL career began, but Vejmelka had his number on the night as well. Keefe was also working in front of special guests, his wife at the rink from Scottsdale, where his gig began in November of 2019 when he replaced Mike Babcock.

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It was a unique goalscoring match-up, with Jack Campbell knighted as one of the NHL’s best this year and possibly named Atlantic Division All-Star on Thursday, leaving injury-hit Petr Marzek a Allowed to make his first start in the month, against a fellow Czech.

Marzek’s biggest concern in the game was passivity as the Leafs had a 2 to 1 shot lead through 40 minutes, but on just 18 shots, he was beaten twice by Ryan Jingel.

The back of a Toronto net was a mix between defensemen Travis Dermott and Timothy Lilzegren, the latter a surprise entry for Rasmus Sandin which Keefe indicated was forced by a pay cap.

On the winner, Marzek missed to check a cross ice pass to Dzingel, who had gone past defender TJ Brody.

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“We need to save on one of them, maybe on the other,” Keefe said, as Marzek played his fourth game this season.

“But the goalscorers can’t win when you just score them one.”

Mirazek, who has seen rookie Josef Woll play some time in his absence, expressed hope that his problems, two back injuries and a bout of COVID-19, are over.

Mathews’ crowd included some relatives of his mother from northern Mexico. Mathews said that he is getting followers from across the border before the game.

“Love watching them. Now, my younger cousins ​​have picked it up, they’re skating and doing stuff like that. It’s great. As far as their hockey knowledge is concerned, I’m sure That they have achieved a lot over the years. They really support me, it definitely means a lot.”

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Bunting took the offer of a free agent back to his GTA roots after he ended the season strongly for his draft team.

“It was a difficult decision because I had been with the coyotes for so long. But it was great to be with my hometown team and fulfill my dream as a kid. It’s been an incredible experience.”

Bunting’s hockey ties to Arizona have actually been one of the strongest for many years with the AHL Tucson Roadrunners, not just a town in the Beatles’ song.

“Tucson started hockey five years ago and I was there first season. The city was great, following us from the start. People may not know much about hockey, but they jumped on board to support us. done. More fans came out every year. It’s now a hockey city, one of the best in the AHL.”

lhornby@postmedia.com

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