This is the first mini-crisis of the Sheldon Keefe era with the Maple Leafs.
And maybe ‘mini’ is the wrong word to use here. Maybe this is the first real crisis, three losses in a row, three lousy games in a row after looking like a top-5 NHL team .
The worst loss occurred on Sunday night in Sunrise — in the biggest game to date of the regular season, a chance to push the Florida Panthers way back in the standings.
The Leafs didn’t show up. They never announced their presence. They weren’t ready to play. They looked as loose and sloppy and careless as at any time during the final days of Mike Babcock’s regime.
They looked nothing like a team that anyone would take seriously.
Keefe has brought new life and new energy to the hockey club. At first, he seemed almost magician like. The players were looser, happier, seemingly enjoying his unusual possession-style of game, with twists they haven’t seen in the offensive zone.
Then came last Monday and the Edmonton Oilers. And that began Keefe’s first real week of NHL difficulty since he was trying to catch on with the Arizona Coyotes as a winger 16 years ago. The Leafs and Frederik Andersen were rather lost against the Oilers, and too uninvolved against the Winnipeg Jets and then the disaster of Sunday night in Florida where everything from goaltending to effort to structure to accountability disappeared. The new magician: Now you see the Leafs, now you don’t.
And now, Morgan Rielly is out for at least two months. The problems just continue for Keefe.
General manager Kyle Dubas is all locked in to this problematic week as well. His unwillingness or inabilty to add a quality backup goaltender has made the recent difficulties of Andersen all the more unpleasant. Andersen has been pulled in two of his last three starts, only once on merit. But his save percentages in the past three games are .667, .893 and .842. That’s good enough to get you a lottery pick.
In other NHL cities, when the starter hits a bad stretch, the team can turn to the backup goaltender. Michael Hutchinson isn’t that guy. He isn’t good enough to get you out of trouble. Andersen got pulled against the Oilers — Hutchinson gave up three goals on 16 shots. Against Florida, after Andersen was yanked early in the second period, he gave up four goals on 17 shots.
Dubas has stubbornly maintained this isn’t a problem area. It is the single largest welt on his young resume. It has been a problem all season long. It’s more of a problem now with the all-star Andersen struggling to find his all-star form. Tampa can turn to Curtis McElhinney if Andrei Vasilevskiy needs a break. Boston can turn to Jaroslav Halak when Tuukka Rask is off. And on Sunday night, the Leafs lost to somebody named Chris Driedger, an Ottawa Senators draft pick from years gone by, who two years ago was playing for the Brampton Beast. That Chris Driedger.
He would probably be an upgrade on Hutchinson. Just about anyone would. Hutchinson has played 12 games this season for the Leafs, nine as a starter, three as a backup. He has two decent starts, one strong relief appearance, six games you want to forget about. You need more dependability from a backup, especially with Andersen off his game. You need Glenn Healy or Jamie McLennan
This is just one of the problems that have become evident as the Keefe magic is slowly wearing off.
Under Keefe the Leafs still have a 15-6-2 record, a long way from the 9-10-4 team he inherited. That’s 114 point pace compared to 78 point pace. That’s a huge change. But they’re 0-2-1 in the past seven days. Eighteen goals against in the three defeats. The old problems — defensive zone coverages, gap control, inability to win battles on loose pucks, shoddy neutral zone play, too many odd-man rushes against, an overall lack of effort — seemingly came back all at once. And it isn’t one player, one pair of defence, one forward line to fix — it’s the whole team right now.
Keefe’s Leafs are first in the NHL in scoring since he took over as coach. And they’re 11th in goals against in those 23 games, up from 30th when Babcock left. Statistically that works. The goal differential, one of Babcock’s favourite numbers, is +21 since Keefe took over. It was minus-8 under Babcock in the same number of games coached.
But in the last three games, it is minus-9, and it would be worse than that if the Leafs didn’t score some garbage goals after they were way behind.
Oddly, after the horrible game in Florida, after the Leafs were granted a day in the sun, they were given the day off Monday. Keefe is anything but conventional, but this is all new for him now.
His first NHL predicament. His job to find a way out. The players disgraced themselves Sunday night in Florida. That’s on them. Now it’s time for the coach to fix all that is seemingly wrong.
Flames open road trip with win for Sutter against his former team – Sportsnet.ca
LOS ANGELES — Sitting in the bowels of a Staples Center arena in which he raised two Stanley Cups, Darryl Sutter was asked about the drive to win another one.
“It’s, like, all that matters to me,” said the Flames’ singularly-focused coach. “You’re trying to translate that to the players, to get to that level that it takes. And the difference it makes in a career and their lives.”
The difference Sutter helped make in Los Angeles was recognized seven minutes into Thursday’s Flames win when he and Trevor Lewis were saluted in a Jumbotron video that drew a standing ovation from a sparse crowd of 13,241.
Guiding the Kings to the franchise’s first Cup win in his first season as their head coach in 2012, Sutter became just the 19th coach in NHL lore to win multiple titles when he won again in 2014.
He’s had a similar, early impact in Calgary where his Flames continue to be the talk of the league, improving their record to a best-in-the-west 14-4-5 with a 3-2 win over his former team.
He wouldn’t say it afterward, but you can bet it meant just a little bit more for him to see his club win one at Staples.
“Some of the players that went through here before told me they probably would,” shrugged Sutter of the video. “It’s good. Good for Trevor, and good for my family.”
Darryl Sutter & Trevor Lewis react to the arena tribute as they both make their returns to the Staples Center. pic.twitter.com/7Kh7iw9NaF
— Sportsnet (@Sportsnet) December 3, 2021
Although he did his best to downplay it before and afterwards, this game was important to Sutter.
And the players knew it.
“We wanted to win it for our coach, we wanted to win it for Lewis and his return, and we wanted to get our first win in our division,” said Milan Lucic, whose second power play unit played a big role in the win, with two first period goals.
“Those are all important things for us tonight. It’s always nice to start a four-game trip off in the win column.”
Lucic went five-hole for the fourth time this season to put the Flames up 2-1 in a first period that also saw Andrew Mangiapane score with the man advantage.
“I looked up and saw defence and went back to it — it’s a high percentage shot,” said a smiling Lucic of the between-the-wickets shot that has helped him score the majority of his seven goals.
“If it misses it hits the pads and stays alive, as opposed to a shot in the glove. It seems to be working out. If it ain’t broke don’t fix it. I’d love to tell you how I set it up, but I don’t want the goalies to know what my thought process is. So we’ll just leave it at that.”
Not surprisingly, Lucic got the starting nod alongside fellow Kings alumni Lewis and Brad Richardson as part of Sutter’s gritty All the King’s Men Line.
“My buddies call us the Full Pension Line, which I thought was funny,” laughed Lewis of a nickname offered up by childhood friend and former Flame, Shane O’Brien.
“But whatever you guys want to call it.”
An Alex Iafallo redirection gave the opposition the opening goal for just the fifth time in 23 games — and first on the road — five minutes in.
Mangiapane responded with his 16th before Lucic struck.
Minutes after taking the lead Matthew Tkachuk did his best to resurrect his feud with Drew Doughty with a gritty shift on which he knocked the Kings defender down with a reverse hit before punctuating the whistle with a pair of net-side punches to Doughty’s face.
The second poke drew a penalty the Flames killed off as part of yet another perfect night that saw the unit stop both of L.A.’s man advantages.
Even scoreboard urging from Snoop Dogg couldn’t spur on the Kings.
Top cheese Tkachuk.
— Sportsnet (@Sportsnet) December 3, 2021
Tkachuk wound up with the last laugh as he used Doughty as a screen to score his 11th of the season — a top-shelf beauty that stood as the winner early in the second.
“Whoever the defenceman was on that side I just tried to shoot it through him, and it worked out,” said Tkachuk. “I’m sure if you asked (Sutter) he wouldn’t want us to be extra motivated for him. He’d say he wanted us to come in here and get off on this road trip on the right foot and don’t worry about his homecoming. But it was big to get them the win.”
Alexander Edler’s first as a King narrowed the gap late in the second, setting up a third period push that saw Lewis make a key block after Jacob Markstrom made a stunning glove save on Victor Arvidsson’s point blast — one of 40 saves on the night.
The Flames play in Anaheim Friday as part of a four-game road trip that takes them through Vegas and San Jose.
“I think it’s really good for our team, and it’s another measuring stick to see where you are at when you get into the division part of it,” said Sutter before the game when asked about the trip against division rivals.
“This trip there are two we haven’t played and two we haven’t beaten.”
Make that one they haven’t beaten.
NOTES: The Flames sent Juuso Valimaki to Stockton to get some much-needed playing time, as the 23-year-old first-rounder has only been used in eight of the team’s 23 games this season.
Prediction Time: CFL.ca writers' Div Finals picks – CFL.ca
TORONTO — The anticipation is building by the day as we get closer to our Eastern and Western Division Finals on Sunday.
A pair of longtime rivals are the final four teams standing and on Sunday we’ll find out which of those two make it to the 108th Grey Cup next week in Hamilton.
If you’re looking for sound, stable and successful advice, look no further than our Jamie Nye. Tied for first-place with Pat Steinberg with a 39-26 record, Jamie was the only one of the six CFL.ca writers that went 2-0 last week, wisely taking the Ticats and Riders to hold court at home. This week they’re both on the road, heading into Toronto and Winnipeg, respectively, to take on the first place Argos and Bombers.
Home field didn’t carry quite as much weight in the East with the pick-makers as it did in the West this week, despite the Argos’ 6-1 record at BMO Field. Just about everyone is on board with the Bombers hosting at IG Field, a place where they haven’t had the taste of defeat all season. The last time the Bombers lost at home was Sept. 27, 2019. That Week 16 loss to Hamilton came a couple of weeks before the Bombers traded for Zach Collaros.
The Riders have a hill to climb this week and they seem to recognize that. The Ticats have a hill of their own, having dropped three of their four meetings with the Argos this season, including their Week 15 encounter that clinched first in the East for the Double Blue.
We’re just days away from having answers and knowing who will be playing for the Grey Cup, setting up a true Sunday Funday.
HAM at TOR
The Argos might have one of the most underappreciated home field records in recent league history. Standing at an impressive 6-1 — the blemish coming in a meaningless end-of-season tilt with Edmonton — they won’t be an easy out at BMO Field. There’s pressure on each side to win of course, but there’s a little more on the Ticats, who beat the Argos in their first meeting on Labour Day, then dropped their next three meetings, with encounters No. 2 and 3 being one-point losses. Still, the majority of our pick makers think the Ticats can do it, coming off of a convincing win over Montreal last week. A traveling pack of supporters making the trip up the QEW might help pack the stands on Sunday and will try to even out that home field advantage.
Writers 66% Hamilton
SSK at WPG
The Riders get one last crack at the blue and gold riddle they haven’t been able to solve on Sunday afternoon. This edition of the Bombers might stand as one of the franchise’s all-time great teams, led by a defence that feasts on turnovers and miscues, and is steered on offence by Zach Collaros‘ calm and deliberate style of play. The defending Grey Cup champs come into this game as rested as can be, will have the support of a packed IG Field and have been focused on the next game in front of them since we kicked the season off back in August. The Riders will likely have to be close to perfect to take them down. Going into the game, it feels like a very tall order.
Writers 83% Winnipeg
Bucks’ Giannis Antetokounmpo misses game vs. Raptors for undisclosed reason – Sportsnet.ca
Antetokounmpo was not among the Bucks’ starters ahead of tipoff. Pat Connaughton was moved into his place in the starting lineup against the Raptors.
The 26-year-old is coming off a dominant performance against the Charlotte Hornets where he had 40 points, 12 rebounds and nine assists in a 127-125 victory. Antetokounmpo is averaging 27.6 points, 11.8 rebounds, and 6.0 assists through 21 games this season.
Milwaukee’s next game is on Saturday against the Miami Heat.
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