The New York Rangers made something of a statement by shutting out the Boston Bruins last night, but it was almost all Henrik Lundqvist, who made 42 saves. To some, the hard-working team needs more talent to justify its place atop the Eastern Conference standings.This video is no longer available. Click here to watch more NBC Sports videos!
GLENDALE, Ariz. (AP) — New Toronto Maple Leafs coach Sheldon Keefe spent a decent chunk of a 30-minute morning skate on Thursday teaching instead of running drills.
There’s a lot for his new team to learn and not much time to do it.
The 39-year-old Keefe is now in charge of the Maple Leafs after veteran coach Mike Babcock was fired Wednesday with the team mired in a six-game losing streak.
Keefe was officially introduced Thursday morning as the 31st head coach in Maple Leafs history. He’s got a long history with general manager Kyle Dubas, who hopes Keefe is the right choice to help Toronto bounce back from a disappointing 9-10-4 start.
Keefe believes it can be done.
”We’ve got a lot of talent and the ability to make life hard on the other team in a lot of ways,” he said. ”Focusing on that, we believe, will produce positive results. Because the players are good enough for that to happen.”
Tavares said there were ”many mixed emotions” because Babcock was so dedicated and committed to the team. He said the team feels a burden because it hasn’t played up to expectations but is ”turning the page” and moving forward.
”Sheldon’s got a great mind for the game,” Tavares said. ”We’re excited about the energy and the things he’s bringing and trying to improve from where we’re at.”
Keefe will make his coaching debut during Toronto’s game against the Arizona Coyotes on Thursday night.
Dubas said the franchise must show patience as Keefe, a first-time NHL coach, embarks on the difficult task of taking over a team midseason and trying to quickly turn things around.
He’s confident the players understand there will be ups and down.
He’s also aware that outside perception might be a little less forgiving.
”It’s all part of what makes working and playing in Toronto great,” Dubas said. ”You can’t go anywhere in Toronto without people caring deeply about the team. I read the greatest quote this morning on the way here: ‘You can look at it as a burden or look at it as a trampoline.”’
Toronto is a team that needs quite a bounce.
The 56-year-old Babcock went 173-133-45 in his four-plus seasons with Toronto and made the playoffs the past three years, though the Maple Leafs lost in the first round each time. When the team started slowly this season, Dubas and team President Brendan Shanahan knew it was time for a change.
Shanahan flew to Arizona on Wednesday to break the news to Babcock, whom he hired in 2015.
He acknowledged it was a hard day. Some more hard days may follow as Keefe tries to quickly implement his system, though the franchise is confident it’s headed in the right direction.
Keefe was in his fifth season as head coach of the American Hockey League’s Toronto Marlies. He was 199-89-31 with the Marlies and helped the franchise win its first Calder Cup championship in 2018.
Several of the Leafs’ current players were coached by Keefe when he was with the Marlies, which is the franchise’s top minor-league affiliate.
• Should the Montreal Canadiens hire Mike Babcock? (Montreal Gazette)
• The Devils have been struggling badly on special teams. (All About the Jersey)
• How easy will it be to fix the Toronto Maple Leafs? (Pension Plan Puppets)
• The Coyotes goalie tandem has been terrific this season. (Five For Howling)
• The Bolts can benefit from this difficult start. (NHL.com)
• Where is the San Jose Sharks’ offense? (Rotoworld)
• Sheldon Keefe has a quiet confidence about him that should help him guide the Leafs. (TSN)
• There’s a lot of questions facing Keefe and his level of success will depend on how many he can answer. (Editor in Leaf)
• The Blue Jackets have added Paul MacLean to their staff (NHL.com/BlueJackets)
• Isles goalie prospect Ilya Sorokin wants to be in the NHL next season. (The Sports Daily)
• Kris Versteeg left the Rockford Ice Hogs on Sunday and the team isn’t in a rush to name a new captain. (Second City Hockey)
Turning over new Maple Leafs
One streak did end, although Sheldon Keefe has to hope that his NHL head coaching career will begin with a streak that goes beyond a debut win. The Maple Leafs ended their losing streak at six games by beating the Coyotes 3-1 in their first game after Mike Babcock fired. Read up on that win here.
From hot streaks to cold
The Islanders maintained their now-franchise-record breaking point streak of 16 games by beating the Penguins in overtime. In doing so, the Isles are also on a five-game winning streak. The Dallas Stars matched that winning streak with their fifth victory in a row, and are pretty hot in their own right, going 9-0-1 in their last 10 games. They’re also 12-1-1 in their last 14 contests.
On the other end of the spectrum, the Flames put forth a painful, pitiful effort in dropping their sixth straight loss. The Predators were more competitive in many ways on Thursday, but Nashville has also lost six in a row. Tense times for two teams that expected to be Western Conference contenders.
1. Claude Giroux, Philadelphia Flyers
Heading into Thursday’s game, Giroux was on a three-game pointless streak, and only had a single point (one goal) over his past six games. The veteran forward exploded with a two-goal, two-assist performance to help the Flyers beat the Hurricanes.
Giroux’s two assists were primary assists, and his second goal ended up being the game-winner. He even threw in a 17-10 mark on faceoffs for good measure.
2. Zach Sanford, St. Louis Blues
Despite a modest 13:19 in ice time on Thursday, Sanford helped lead the charge as the Blues humiliated a flustered Flames team. Sanford scored the game’s first goal (thus getting a GWG) and added three assists during a four-point performance that was almost as impressive as Giroux’s output.
If you’d prefer handing this star to Jordan Binnington for his 40-save shutout, that’s totally understandable.
3. Aaron Ekblad, Florida Panthers
Florida found itself down 4-0 with less than two minutes remaining in the second period, yet managed to enter the third period down a more palatable 4-2. From there, Ekblad took over, scoring a goal and an assist during the third period, then adding the overtime game-winner to lock up a comeback win for Florida. Like Giroux, Ekblad came into the night’s action on a cold streak, having only managed a goal over seven games.
For me, Ekblad’s little trot after the OT-GWG breaks the tie with other players who scored three points on Thursday:
Highlight of the Night
Benn the Bulldozer
- The Panthers have now overcome four-goal deficits to win games twice in 2019-20, joining the 1983-84 Oilers as the only teams to manage such wins twice in the same season, according to NHL PR.
- Sportsnet notes that the Flames are on a streak of 362:46 without taking a lead, the longest stretch in franchise history. Um, at least they haven’t squandered any leads, then? The Maple Leafs’ run without a lead ended at 446:47 when Tyson Barrie scored the opening goal on Thursday, also according to Sportsnet.
- Via NHL PR: Cale Makar is the first Avs/Nordiques rookie defenseman to generate at least 15 points in a single month, and sixth overall among the franchise’s defensemen.
BOS 3 – BUF 2
FLA 5 – ANA 4 (OT)
NYI 4 – PIT 3 (OT)
PHI 5 – CAR 3
CBJ 5 – DET 4
STL 5 – CGY 0
VAN 6 – NSH 3
MIN 3 – COL 2
TBL 4 – CHI 2
DAL 5 – WPG 3
TOR 3 – ARI 1
SJS 2 – VGK 1 (OT)
LAK 5 – EDM 1
If it weren’t for Vinnie Hinostroza spoiling Frederik Andersen‘s shutout with 17 seconds left, Thursday would have been just about perfect for the Toronto Maple Leafs during their first game post-Mike Babcock.
Most importantly, the Maple Leafs ended their six-game losing streak with a win. (Yes, that makes brand-new head coach Sheldon Keefe 1-0-0.)
The symmetry starts to go up a notch when you consider that, on this night, Tyson Barrie finally scored his first goal of the 2019-20 season, which is also his first with the Maple Leafs. Barrie is up there when you picture Leafs with relief of Babcock grief, so scoring here almost feels on-the-nose:
That Barrie goal gave the Maple Leafs a coveted 1-0 lead, and that’s quite a reversal from how things could have felt if Andersen didn’t make this great glove save (which would have stood out even more if Tuukka Rask didn’t give Marc-Andre Fleury competition with an absolutely ludicrous stop).
The underlying numbers are promising, too. In particular, it has to be uplifting to see that the Maple Leafs managed an impressive 18-7 advantage in high-danger chances at all strengths, according to Natural Stat Trick.
There’s a lot to like for the Leafs, but there’s also no denying that the Maple Leafs have a lot of work to do — and a hole they need to dig out of. That win merely brought them back to “.500,” as they’re now 10-10-4 for 24 standings points in 24 games. They wouldn’t make it into the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs if they began on Thursday night, and Toronto’s ninth place standing is even inflated when you realize that teams right behind them hold games in hand. (Toronto’s 24 games played ties for the most in the NHL, while teams like the Lightning [22 points in 19 GP] loom large.)
Ultimately, though, the Maple Leafs can only control what they’re doing on the ice. So far, so good then, when you consider how they’re playing with Keefe pulling the strings instead of Babs.
More on Babcock, Leafs:
- What might be next for Babcock?
- Life after Babs.
- Our Line Starts’ take.
- Why Maple Leafs needed to make this change.