It’s virtually been a break up season for the Toronto Maple Leafs hockey workforce. For a few third of the season, the workforce was led by iconic head coach Mike Babcock. However Babcock was dismissed and former-Toronto Marlies coach Sheldon Keefe was instituted in his place. Definitely, that change has made an enormous distinction within the workforce. By way of this put up, I’ve listed it as one in all my 5 greatest surprises for the season.
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Nevertheless, there have been different surprises. On this put up, I need to share the 5 greatest I’ve seen this season.
Shock #1: A
Teaching Change Can Make a Large Distinction
What a distinction a training change makes in the best way gamers reply. The Maple Leafs are enjoying significantly better underneath new head coach Keefe than they performed with Babcock as their head coach.
Not that I actually had a canine on this battle, however I’ve to confess that I used to be by no means an enormous Babcock supporter. I believed he was in all probability a great coach, though I believed his report was typically a bit over-stated. For instance, I consider virtually any peewee hockey coach within the greater-Toronto space might have coached the uber-talented Canadian Olympic workforce to the 2010 Gold Medal.
Ex-Maple Leafs Coach Mike Babcock (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)
Nonetheless, when Babcock was dismissed and Keefe got here to be the brand new head coach, I couldn’t consider how a lot issues improved. It felt completely different – very completely different. The gamers appeared to have a weight lifted off them. They performed extra free. They nonetheless made on-ice errors, however they really appeared to attempt laborious each evening (excluding the ill-fated Philadelphia Flyers recreation).
In actual fact, simply previous to the teaching change and with no information of what was coming, I had written a pissed off put up titled “Why Aren’t the Toronto Maple Leafs Attempting More durable?” To me, they appeared dispirited and didn’t care. I believe Keefe has them caring.
The attribute I’ve come to understand about Keefe is his consideration for his gamers. For instance, he scratched Nic Petan to play Nick Shore in his hometown of Colorado towards the Avalanche – Shore scored, which contrasts with Babcock scratching Toronto-native Jason Spezza for the Maple Leafs residence opener. He’s embraced logic by placing Tyson Barrie again because the power-play quarterback the place he had led the Colorado Avalanche for a number of seasons. And, he’s tried new issues by pairing Barrie with Morgan Rielly to create, at the least on paper, an elite defensive first-pairing.
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Keefe helps Matthews work on a 200-foot recreation, and I see progress. Marner’s again to being the elite play-making participant of final season. Through the first a part of the season, I felt Marner may be in search of extra to attain himself than arrange teammates.
This stuff don’t make the workforce good. There are issues to enhance, to work out, and to tweak. Nevertheless, I’m excited to see what normal supervisor Kyle Dubas and coach Keefe bear in mind about the best way they consider this younger workforce ought to play. It’s a piece in progress, nevertheless it’s a piece making progress.
Shock #2: Andersen Is an Elite Goalie and a Good Teammate
I believed Frederik Andersen was an awesome goalie, however even with my optimistic bias I’ve come to understand him extra this season.
In my thoughts, Andersen’s an elite goalie when it comes to ability. In actual fact, final season I wrote a put up naming him the Maple Leafs’ MVP. Nevertheless, I’ve additionally discovered that he’s additionally an elite participant when it comes to his dedication to his workforce and his fellow teammates.
Toronto Maple Leafs goaltender Frederik Andersen (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Younger)
Particularly, after his workforce bailed on him, permitting 5 unanswered targets towards the Flyers on Dec. three, on the flight again to Toronto he pleaded with the coaches to permit him into the following recreation so he might go to battle together with his workforce.
He needed to know that that they had abandoned him. Everybody else was conscious of it, and Matthews had stated it publically after the sport. (Curiously, when watching the Toronto Raptors basketball recreation nights later, the digital camera panned to the group the place Matthews was sitting with Andersen.) Andersen received my admiration by sticking together with his workforce – no matter whether or not he received the sport or not.
Shock #three: Mikheyev Is a Actually Good Participant
We needed to suppose Babcock believed Mikheyev was a great participant when he took specific curiosity in recruiting the younger Russian from the Kontinental Hockey League. Photographs of Babcock and Mikheyev collectively confirmed the ever-taciturn Babcock as virtually giddy. You’d suppose he was speaking about Zach Hyman’s forechecking, he appeared so glad.
Mike Babcock on Ilya Mikheyev: “I put him on the market killing a penalty in OT. I did not even know for certain if he might perceive what I used to be telling him, however he did it anyway & appeared good doing it. That is good. He is getting higher daily.”🥣— Mark Masters (@markhmasters) October 6, 2019When Mikheyev confirmed up in camp, clearly the jury was out. Most followers knew little about him. Nevertheless, it didn’t take lengthy for followers to study. Mikheyev rapidly confirmed himself to be expert sufficient on the ice, clever sufficient to suppose the sport, and speedy sufficient to make issues occur. To my eyes, he was particularly capable of anticipate opponents’ pondering and make performs that put him the place the puck could be going.
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Not that Mikheyev’s near elite but, however he exhibits the form of psychological expertise one of the best gamers reveal – and Wayne Gretzky was maybe one of the best all-time – that carry them above different robust NHL gamers. Mikheyev isn’t there, however I consider he has the expertise to develop into a daily top-six Maple Leafs participant.
Shock #four: Matthews Is Turning into a 200-Foot Participant
I’m watching Matthews develop as a participant. Few gamers have Matthews’ ability as a sniper, and that’s been the case since he was a rookie. Nevertheless, I’ve additionally seen him play laborious protection to catch as much as an on-ice mistake (not all the time his) and make a deft stick-lift or puck strip earlier than an opponent can end a play.
Columbus Blue Jackets left wing Nick Foligno protects the puck from Toronto Maple Leafs heart Auston Matthews (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn)
I even have come to understand that he’s stepped up as a pacesetter. His feedback concerning the workforce deserting Andersen put stress on the workforce, however totally on himself, to be higher. That form of progress will push him to embrace one of the best model of himself because the hockey participant he might develop into.
How Younger This Crew Can Act
What has shocked me, and never in a great way, is how “younger” the workforce can act – childishly self-centered virtually. On two events, the gamers grew to become discouraged and give up enjoying laborious.
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One was towards the Pittsburgh Penguins when Marlies goalie Kasimir Kaskisuo was making his NHL debut. Easy delight and respect for a teammate demanded greater than the workforce gave. The second was when the workforce let Andersen hang around to dry towards the Flyers.
Kasimir Kaskisuo (Jess Starr/ The Hockey Writers)
Maybe that incident was only a uncommon instance of that nice Keanu Reeves scene from The Replacements, the place Shane Falco talked about how a workforce might get caught within the quicksand of error and lose management when issues begin going badly. Regardless of the motive, that form of play merely should cease.
The place the Maple Leafs
The Maple Leafs appear to have escaped the quicksand of the previous and are enjoying for the long run. Let’s hope the long run features a lengthy Stanley Cup playoff run this season. I believe there’s a great probability.