Keefe gets rough playoff baptism — Toronto Sun

Read More

Keefe gets rough playoff baptism — Toronto Sun

If it makes Sheldon Keefe feel better, Pat Burns and Pat Quinn both lost their first playoff games behind the Maple Leafs bench and did fine in the bigger picture of post-season success.

But there’s more urgency when down one in a COVID-19 condensed best-of-five.Unlike the aforementioned pair, whose teams were just happy to be at the dance after years on the sidelines, the 2020 Leafs are built for more immediate success. Now that he’s seen the lay of the land — no home comforts at barren Scotiabank Arena, a feisty foe, a 2-0 loss, and some shortcomings in team execution — Keefe insists his team can counterpunch Tuesday at 4 p.m.

First, he needs more than Auston Matthews to drive the net, even though the leading scorer also caught the full brunt of Blue Jackets defencemen Seth Jones and Zach Werenski. Linemates John Tavares and Mitch Marner, meanwhile, were rarely able to get near the blue paint.

“Taking care of the puck, putting it in intelligent spots, finding different ways to get involved offensively,” Keefe listed for the duo. “This team, as we fully expected, would make it really hard, especially on the rush where Mitch and John have a lot of success. We know we’re facing the No. 1 team in the league defending the rush and because of that, we have to find different ways to score.”

More frequently mentioned whenever public complaints are lodged against Leafs kept on the perimeter is William Nylander. Sunday made it 21 playoff games with just three goals, but Keefe was quick to hush the critics, saying he ranked him with Matthews as the strongest catalysts to get on the board.

“I felt it and the stats back it up — (Nylander) had the puck on his stick more than anyone on our team in the offensive zone,” Keefe claimed “He was not a problem for us.”

There could be a lineup change, either with more stacking of Matthews with Marner and Tavares in 5-on-5 gambits or Pierre Engvall replacing Frederik Gauthier as fourth line centre. Engvall practiced there Monday.

“Pierre didn’t have a great camp,” Keefe summarized. “We think he has more to offer. At his best, he makes us a better team, but we haven’t seen his best. When he gets back in the lineup, we expect him to really push to stay. We need him to be physical, skating, doing all the things he’s capable of.”

ROOKIE ROCKS

As a colleague joked in SBA’s frigid 300 level press area, Nick Robertson would’ve got a Legend’s Row statue had he scored Sunday on that first shift chance, based on so many camp stories written about him. Joonas Korpisalo denied him, but it was an impressive start for the 18-year-old. Like the rest of the Leafs, his energy level waned as the Jackets stiffened.

“It went by so fast,” Robertson said of the Kasperi Kapanen set-up on Korpisalo. “Unfortunately, he got to the left side where I wanted, but it was a good save.

“Personally, I thought I did better than expected. There’s obviously a lot more at stake given my debut’s in playoffs and I’m not given more than one exhibition, but (Tuesday) I’ll be a little more confident, hopefully get more shots off and stick to more of my game.”

COLUMBUS BLOCK PARTY

The Leafs are finding there’s a lot more than Jones and Werenski when it comes to picking the lock on the Jackets’ defence. David Savard had five shot blocks in Game 1, part of 18 throughout their lineup and he and Vladislav Gavrikov formed an effective pairing.

“Savvy has it tattooed on his head he’s going to block shots, that’s a big part of his game,” praised Columbus coach John Tortorella. “(But) after Game 1, I think we need to be even better.”

Tavares noted the Jackets collectively “don’t sell out” when they do get in lanes, giving themselves block options with their bodies and sticks. They take away enough ice that Korpisalo can concern himself with setting up to guard sides and top corners.

“We have to break them down, draw them away from the net, make them defend in their end consistently. I’d like to think we can wear them down over 60 minutes.”

WELCOME HOME

Until Sunday, It had been more than 27 years since a Foligno had a playoff point in Toronto. Columbus captain Nick Foligno’s assist on Alex Wennberg’s empty netter links to papa Mike’s helper on Wendel Clark’s marker in the Leafs’5-4 defeat to Los Angeles in Game 7 of the conference final.

“It’s always a little nostalgic coming back here,” said Nick, who was kindergarten age when Mike was traded here from Buffalo. “The memories of ‘92-93, the way my dad was treated … it’s a place he thinks fondly of and has a lot of great hockey memories of.”

LOOSE LEAFS

If you’ve not heard much of Korpisalo, he was taken to lead off the third round of the 2012 draft. The five goalies selected ahead of him included first rounder Andrei Vasilevskiy, the all-star with Tampa Bay … Frederik Andersen brought his playoff goals-against average under 3.00 with 33 saves Sunday, but he’s now lost 12 of 21 playoff games … Toronto’s Cup odds took a hit after Sunday. BetOnline.com pushed them from 22-to-1 to 40-1, now ranked with Game 1 losers Nashville and the Rangers. Columbus’s 66-to-1 odds didn’t move, with Colorado at 13-to-2 now favoured to win it all … Alex Stalock, with the shutout for the Wild on Sunday, is the same goalie who couldn’t get a shot with the Dubas/Keefe Marlies in 2015-16. Traded from San Jose in the James Reimer deal, he called being buried in the AHL depth chart the low point of his career. He’s also Minnesota’s Bill Masterton Trophy nominee.

lhornby@postmedia.com

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s