Sheldon Keefe knows that he has a good collection of talent and experienced veterans, but more than anything he is looking for the Toronto Maple Leafs to play an effective two-way game and limit the opposition’s offensive chances. After a solid effort in a road victory over Ottawa on Saturday, the Leafs once again were good at both ends of the ice in a 3-1 victory over the Winnipeg Jets at Scotiabank Arena on Monday.
Mitch Marner tallied twice and John Tavares scored for Toronto, and Frederik Andersen made 27 saves on the night, including a dozen stops in the third period to preserve a one-goal lead before Marner added an empty-netter late in regulation.
“I think we’re just starting to build some good habits over the last couple of games and just staying with it. We didn’t love giving up the goal at the end of the period, but we faced some adversity here with how well we played in the second and we fought hard to get the two-goal lead.” Tavares said after the game. “(We did a) good job in the third still being able to create some opportunities, being aggressive on the forecheck and making them really have to work to get up the ice.”
Winnipeg was without star winger Patrik Laine due to an upper-body injury, but the Leafs were effective at keeping the Jets out of the scoring zones for most of the night and limiting second opportunities when they did get chances. Tavares seems invigorated after what many perceived was an off-year in 2020 and is tied with Marner for the NHL scoring lead with six points in the first week of the regular season.
“I’m just trying to play my game. I know it’s been part of what’s helped me get to this point in my career, just continuing to find ways to be productive and consistent.” Tavares said. “The power play’s doing a really good job. Every game 5-on-5 continues to build a little bit better so just trying to build on that and find different ways to create opportunities and produce.”
The game saw the Leafs go with 11 forwards and seven defensemen, with Mikko Lehtonen making his NHL debut. The Finnish blueliner played just 6:41 on the night and saw a little time on the second power play, but did not see much ice time with Toronto holding a one-goal lead late in the contest.
“(Mikko) didn’t play a lot in the second half of the game. I’d have to go back and watch all his shifts just to see the details and stuff inside of it, but from the bench when he was out there I thought he looked good and looked confident.” Keefe said after the game.
Keefe has spoon fed ice time with his KHL imports in Lehtonen and Barabanov (who averaged under six minutes in his two games) thus far. This may be because of a shortened training camp and no exhibition games, but eventually the Leafs head coach is going to have to give these players more of an opportunity to show what they can do.
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