Leafs fans were treated to Christmas early on Monday night in Toronto as the team pulled off a wild comeback against the visiting Carolina Hurricanes. The win gave the Leafs a five-game winning streak and put the team in second place heading into the NHL’s holiday break. Here’s some news and notes heading into the break.
In case you somehow missed it, here’s the Leafs scoring three goals in under a minute, turning a two-goal deficit into a one-goal lead in the third period:
— Toronto Maple Leafs (@MapleLeafs) December 24, 2019
A key cog in last night’s comeback was the Mitch Marner, Auston Matthews, and Zach Hyman line. Marner scored the first of three goals in the minute span off of a great pass from Matthews, Hyman fed Tyson Barrie for the second, and Marner then scored the third off of the face-off. All told, those three combined to put up 10 points last night. Since becoming a line during the game against the Red Wings a couple of days ago, they have 18 points over two games.
Auston Matthews spoke after the game about how he enjoys playing alongside Marner, which is a duo we didn’t see often last season…
“We’ve always felt we’ve had fun playing with each other in the past, whether it was for a couple of shifts or for a period or one game. We never really had consistency, playing together. He’s a really great player and he’s fun to play with. We just try to feed off each other, like we did tonight.”
As well as the line as been playing, head coach Sheldon Keefe said that he’ll continue to experiment with new things rather than sticking forever with something that had some success…
“I would say we’re still kind of in the experiment stage,” coach Keefe said of the Marner/Matthews pairing. How it works out long term is not necessarily just on how that goes, but how things underneath them go. We look at all of that. I think if I’ve shown anything in the early going here, it’s that I’m not one want to maybe stick with anything for too long.”
On the other, less fun and exciting side of last night’s comeback win was the second-period collapse that preceded it. The Leafs carried a 3-0 lead early on in the first, but then allowed five goals to give the Hurricanes the lead. Freddy Andersen allowed six goals on 40 shots. In his last outing against the Rangers, he allowed three goals on 22 shots and didn’t look particularly sharp. Andersen has already played in 30 games, the most of any goalie in the league, and might be feeling the effects of such a heavy load.
Regardless, Keefe isn’t worried about the unorthodox win.
Sheldon Keefe opens press conference: "It went exactly as planned so not a lot to talk about."
— James Mirtle (@mirtle) December 23, 2019
It’s clear that things are different around the team with Mike Babcock out and Keefe in. That obviously isn’t anything new. The team seems looser and the offence we expected to see from a highly-talented group is finally showing. John Tavares says the group has a lot of trust in him, so it isn’t surprising to see such a significant change in their play.
Over at NHL.com, Mike Zeisberger tells a great story about how Keefe made last night’s game special for veteran Jason Spezza…
There was a public outcry when Babcock made Spezza a healthy scratch for the season opener against Ottawa Oct. 2. The veteran forward, a Toronto-area native, had his entire family in the arena that night for his first regular-season game with the Maple Leafs, only to sit in the press box because of a coaching decision.
Compare that to Monday, which was known as the Next Generation game. Hundreds of kids were at Scotiabank Arena as part of the event including Spezza’s children.
Keefe wanted to make it special for Spezza, so the coach made sure he was out for the opening face-off.
“To be honest, the biggest thing was I had a sense here frankly that with it being the Next Generation game and it being a two o’clock start that he would have his (four) girls in the building,” Keefe said. “It was a chance to give him a little moment there.”
Spezza responded by opening the scoring 30 seconds into the game.
“It worked out for us,” Keefe said.