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TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS (9-10-4) at ARIZONA COYOTES (13-7-2)
Thursday, 9 p.m., Gila River Arena
TV: Sportsnet Ontario;, Radio: 590 AM
THE BIG MATCHUP
Auston Matthews vs. Phil Kessel
Matthews knew only Mike Babcock as his coach in the NHL, while Kessel never had that chance, being traded to Pittsburgh from Toronto in the months after Babcock was hired in the spring of 2015. Matthews has just two points in his past four games, while Kessel has 13 points (three goals and 10 assists) in his first 22 games with the Coyotes after being acquired from the Penguins.
FIVE KEYS TO THE GAME
New coach, new effort?
Passion has been missing from the Leafs for a while now, and could you imagine if Sheldon Keefe gets a flat effort in his NHL coaching debut? The Leafs became excuse-makers under Mike Babcock (the schedule, for example), but they absolutely won’t have any reason for not trying to blow Keefe’s doors off with a positive first impression. And do it from the first shift for a change, not in chunks of the game.
Matthews at home
Auston Matthews gets some home cooking, but has something else in mind: Improving on his road production, as he has just seven points in 10 away games this season. “It has been a bit of a tough stretch lately but offensively (Tuesday in Las Vegas) I thought we had some good chances,” Matthews said. “(Playing against top lines) is always a challenge, but I think it’s something we have been used to.”
Alex Kerfoot is expected to play after missing three games with a facial injury. He practised with a full face mask on Wednesday and his return would be a boost. That decision will be made in the morning, as Kerfoot has lost some weight in his recovery, eating most of his meals through a straw. “I feel a lot better,” Kerfoot said. “It’s something you can play with and if it’s protected well enough, hopefully it does not cause any more problems.”
Change of mindset
Before the coaching change came, the Leafs were feeling better about their effort in Las Vegas, even though a 4-2 loss was the result. “We’re learning to put things behind us and we know we had a great effort and just have to carry on from there,” said forward Nic Petan, who was robbed by Golden Knights goalie Marc-Andre Fleury late in the third period. “I thought we battled hard.”
Coyotes on alert
Coyotes coach Rick Tocchet warned of a desperate Leafs team, even before Babcock was fired. “They’re a dangerous team,” Tocchet said. “I still think they’re going to turn it around. They have two of the best centres in the league (in Matthews and John Tavares), Morgan Rielly is a hell of a defenceman and Freddy Andersen is a great goalie. They have the tools. For me, it’s a matter of time with them.”
MAPLE LEAFS LINES
Andreas Johnsson-Auston Matthews-William Nylander
Zach Hyman-John Tavares-Kasperi Kapanen
Alex Mikheyev-Alex Kerfoot-Jason Spezza
Pierre Engvall/Dmytro Timashov-Nick Shore-Frederik Gauthier
Morgan Rielly-Cody Ceci
Jake Muzzin-Justin Holl
Travis Dermott-Tyson Barrie
Barrett Hayton-Derek Stepan-Clayton Keller
Christian Dvorak-Nick Schmaltz-Conor Garland
Lawson Crouse-Carl Soderberg-Phil Kessel
Christian Fischer-Brad Richardson-Vinnie Hinostroza
Oliver Ekman-Larsson-Jason Demers
Jakob Chychrun-Alex Goligoski
Aaron Ness-Jordan Oesterle
Coyotes — D Niklas Hjalmarsson (leg).
Maple Leafs — F Mitch Marner (ankle), F Trevor Moore (shoulder).
Coyotes: 17.1% (20th)
Maple Leafs: 17.6% (18th)
Coyotes: 82.1% (16th)
Maple Leafs: 73.1% (27th)
Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2019