News and Notes: Sheldon Keefe talks learning experiences, Jason Spezza discusses his role, and more

After picking up back-to-back wins to kick off their four-game Western Conference road trip, the Leafs dropped one of their most frustrating games of the season last night. They carried a 2-1 lead into the third period, and, within a matter of a couple of minutes, allowed three unanswered goals and took the loss.

The Leafs will look to rebound on Saturday night when they head to Edmonton to take on the struggling Oilers. Edmonton is mired in their first real losing streak of the season, as they’ve lost three in a row. The Leafs have won every single match-up against the Oilers in the Auston Matthews era, with Edmonton’s last win against Toronto coming back when Connor McDavid had a five-point game back in February of 2016.

Sheldon Keefe teased everybody today when Michael Hutchinson was the first goalie off the ice at practice, indicating that he would get the start, though the coach confirmed shortly after that Freddy Andersen would be getting the start in Edmonton. I don’t know about you guys, but the idea of Hutchinson getting a start against Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl sounds a little disturbing.

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Also mentioned is that Trevor Moore might be ready to return to the lineup. Moore has been sidelined since the middle of November with a shoulder injury. His return would certainly be welcomed as the Leafs are incredibly thin on the left side right as Andreas Johnsson is also on the Injured Reserve with a leg injury. Moore practiced today on the fourth line with Freddy Gauthier and a rotation of Jason Spezza and Nic Petan.

Circling back to Thursday’s loss, Keefe took a positive, big-picture approach, suggesting that the team can use it as a learning experience. Despite playing a poor game against the Canucks in which they had to rely on a 38-save performance from Andersen, the Leafs picked up a win. As Keefe says, it’s difficult to use a win to create teachable moments, so the team was, at the very least, able to take that out of the loss in Calgary. We’ll see if the team is able to play an entire 60 minutes against Edmonton.

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Over at Sportsnet, Luke Fox has an interesting piece loaded with quotes from Jason Spezza, who discusses, among other things like his role on the team as a veteran, how things are different under the new coach.

“Now I’m in the lineup every night. And then I wasn’t. So, yeah, I have a bigger impact in the room and everywhere just because I’m playing. And then you get to see things. You get to see how the room’s reacting, and that’s where you really can use your experience. When you’re out of the lineup, you’re just trying to stay out of the way and stay upbeat and trying to keep yourself sharp.

There’s maybe more communication with the coach now, but I don’t know if it’s worth comparing before and after.

It was frustrating not being the lineup at the start of the year, but now I’m in the lineup, we have a good team, and we’re trying to build, and it’s fun to play.”

Spezza was a prime example of the difference in philosophy between general manager Kyle Dubas and head coach Mike Babcock. Dubas signed Spezza because he believed the veteran still has the skill to contribute as an NHL depth player, while Babcock was skeptical to give him an everyday role in the lineup. Since Keefe was hired, Spezza has played in nine of ten games, producing a respectable five points.

Another change under Keefe has been the pairing of Morgan Rielly and Tyson Barrie. Babcock had stapled Cody Ceci to Reilly as his defensive partner while shoving the newly-acquired Barrie down the lineup. The two have been paired together for a few games now and are starting to find their groove as the Leafs’ offensive duo from the blueline.

“I’m not concerned about [them being a defensive liability],” Keefe said to TSN. “I think that both guys, with the way that they skate and just the way that we’re trying to adjust our structure, we think it helps all of our players and insulates our defence a lot better. But also in pairing them with some of our better players, the hope is that the play is going to be in the other half of the ice. We know that it’s not always going to be the case but we trust these guys, they’re good players, they’re reliable players in their own right and they recognize what we want to get done on both sides of the puck.”

Barrie has six points in ten games under Keefe. In the first 23 games of the season with Babcock, he had only seven. We also haven’t heard any more talk about a Barrie trade recently.