In the middle of another third term in which the Toronto Maple Leafs didn’t win, Sheldon Keefe looked up and down on the bench and decided that a day off would do them some good.
“I think our group looks tired here again today,” said the coach, his increasingly dissatisfied tone growing as this road trip continued.
“Looks like we hit a wall there and stopped playing for a good portion of the time in that third period. No life and no energy on our seats at a time when we needed it. So, to me, a sign of fatigue.”
Show us an NHL team that hasn’t had to ditch quarantines, injuries, and shifting schedule switches, and we’ll show you the government’s anti-epidemic plan that satisfies 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 through delayed rendezvous, forced house arrest, ice rinks, and uneven competition.
In 2022, the foliage went from easy games against depleted Ottawa and Edmonton rosters to high-tempo showdowns against Colorado and Vegas before losing 2-1 to the Arizona Coyotes in the second half of a back-to-back game on Wednesday.
“It makes me start to question our conditioning and where we are there. But it is clear that we have to find ways to rise to the occasion at the right times rather than fall apart.”
The coach wanted his goalkeeper, Peter Mrazek, to make another big save after a 32-day absence from the game. And he wanted the skaters to press harder with two points waiting for wins of late.
So: How do these papers get back up to speed?
“Play more games,” Keefe said. “The conditioning is getting better. The speed is getting better. [You get] We used to grind it, push it through it.”
Hockey Gonna Hockey
What Keefe could have done was simply take credit for Coyotes goalkeeper Karel Vimelka for the first star performance and move on.
This would be the monster Auston Matthews’ favorite combo, All Night Power.
“We really controlled play for the greater part of the game,” Matthews said. “Sometimes you run into a hot goalkeeper, and you have to tip your hat to him.”
This is how Timothy Lilligreen looked at things, too: “Their goalkeeper had a great night, and it wasn’t just our night.”
Perhaps The Leafs didn’t deserve to criticize three of their four-pointers in Colorado and Vegas to start the journey; They certainly don’t deserve to leave the Gila River Arena without a scratch.
Toronto outplayed the Coyotes 46-18, outplayed them 48-23, and scored a predicted 5.89 goals against 2.07 for Arizona.
The Leafs started the competition with ten shots in back-to-back power matches but came out empty in the first half.
At different times the TV viewer may check the result error to see if Toronto is back in the power game because the disc barely left the Yotes area in 5-on-5.
Shots for the visitors were 15-2 when Ryan Dzingel, playing his first game since December 10, knocked out a puck flapping past Mrazek and drew first blood.
“Obviously our chances weren’t good,” Keefe said. “We created more than enough to score a lot more goals than we did. But they didn’t execute and they didn’t find ways to make it more difficult for the goalkeeper once he fell into a groove.”
Matthews will arrive Matthews
Toronto’s only goal arrived in the first minute of the third half, but in his 36th shot of the night.
Matthews sniped the patented wrestler on the top shelf and passed Vejmelka, giving him goals in nine consecutive matches on the road (11 total), a Maple Leafs record.
“He keeps making it happen,” says John Tavares. “Obviously the teams are planning the game for him, his ability to rise to the challenge, looking forward to that challenge, adapting his game and finding different ways to create opportunities.
“Not surprisingly, he hit a franchise record like that. When all is said and done, he will have little.”
Czech in the network
Relatively unknown, Vejmelka is a 25-year-old importer whose NHL.com headshot is just the silhouette of a goalkeeper’s mask.
He appeared in seven Czech professional seasons before coming to this side of the pond to experience rebuilding Arizona.
The senior rookie (six-foot-four, £224) has played decent hockey under relative obscurity, entering Wednesday’s game with the league’s weakest goal support (1.56 goals per game).
Possesses maple leaves four Players – Matthews, Tavares, William Nylander and Morgan Riley – with more points than Arizona’s top scorers (Clayton Keeler, 26).
Therefore, it makes sense that Coyote would need to make a 2-1 decision to win Vejmelka.
The twist on this Tavares lob pass to Nylander…
“It’s mostly instinct at the moment and maybe just getting a good understanding of playing Willy,” Tavares explains.
“Willie has a lot of anticipation about when to tap and extend the ice when the disc flips – and he can read this play. So, it’s up to me to try to find it and get it to him in whatever way I can.”
‘Hope next time to yield a goal.’
preceding paper on each line
The ghost of Maple Leafs in the past would jump on boards with every wolf shift.
Spread across four different lines, the names Travis Boyd, Phil Kessel, Riley Nash and Alex Galchenyuk bring back memories of Leafs Nation.
Galchenyuk got retaliatory help from Dzingel’s win, his second in the night and a rare fast goal for the coyotes.
But Contract Year Kessel was the most standout of the bunch, full of action with a few offensive bursts with “commercial bait” written all over it.
Finally, Toronto is on the cusp of full health
It only took 35 games, but it looks like the Maple Leafs will have a healthy 100 percent line-up for Saturday’s mile in St. Louis.
Mitch Marner and Pierre Ingvale (COVID-Protocol) are due to join the club in Arizona on Thursday, a day off, and should be available to practice on Friday and – if medicine gives the green light – play Saturday.
That portends bad news for Nick Ritchie, who actually rescinded the waivers last week and could slip off the active list until needed.
Marner and Ingevall are immediately improving their penalty kicks in Toronto, and Ingevall is also improving fourth-line speed, strength and defensive responsibility.
Yes, Matthews had no problem producing in the absence of Marner, but in defense of the Leafs they are a more porous group.
“Two high-impact players. Michy is one of the best wingers in the league and plays in every situation for us, a guy we can count on and you know, and Pierre continues to grow and make an impact for us,” says Tavares.
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