Talk about an immediate impact. The Leafs looked relaxed, motivated, happy, and most importantly, like themselves in Sheldon Keefe’s NHL debut. Not to piss on his proverbial grave or anything, but the Leafs never played like this under Babcock.
Did you see how Tyson Barrie and the rest of the defense jumped up in the play and impacted the game playing to their strengths? Looked pretty good, didn’t it? It’s exactly what Leafs Nation has been begging for – the team playing to their strengths. For all the good Mike Babcock did as Leafs coach, god damn was he frustrating when he slammed round peg players into his square hole systems.
In reality, there isn’t much impact a coach can have on a team long term in just 24 hours on duty. That being said, the impact Keefe has had is in embracing the skill set of his players and deploying them in a matter that best suits the team’s natural play style.
Tyson Barrie – gets his first goal for the Leafs. Pierre Engvall – gets his first NHL goal. Auston Matthews – scores on the road and in front of his home town. The motivation for the Leafs’ three goalscorers was extremely obvious, but Keefe put them all in a position to harness that motivation and capitalize on it.
Barrie and the rest of the D were permitted to jump up in the play, and guess what? The forwards covered back on pinches and stretches in the offensive zone by Barrie and co., allowing for the skilled defenders to play to their skills. It worked for Barrie’s goal and he also got playtime beside Morgan Rielly on the top unit.
Engvall; big body, great hands, good shot, silky skater. Deployed on the PK and his hunger to make an impact in the NHL for his former coach resulted in a shorthanded breakaway and goal. Who woulda thought? Already love his guy.
Auston Matthews (this one is simple): He didn’t have anyone barking down his back; he was allowed to play his dynamic, net hunting style of hockey.
Happy and like themselves
Smiles, smiles, and more smiles. Engvall was smiling, Matthews couldn’t get the grin off his face, Barrie was ear to ear and Sheldon Keefe showed. emotion. behind. the. bench. What a foreign concept from the Leafs.
This team is skilled, this team is fast, this team is exciting, and this team is a hell of a lot of fun to watch when they play hockey the way they are constructed to. It is far too early to crown Keefe as the savior of this Leafs team, but if anything can be taken from this first glimpse into him as coach, less is more with a team that is as skilled as this.