The Toronto Maple Leafs seem to be doing well with Chief Keefe.
On Saturday, they solidified things with a win in Sheldon Keefe’s first game at home behind the bench of the Toronto Maple Leafs. It was a 2-1 victory in overtime against the Buffalo Sabres and goalie Frederik Andersen got the nod.
Andersen’s start was, in and of itself, a departure from the norm. As these Maple Leafs try to forge a new system under a new coach, old systems are tumbling down.
And Andersen has benefitted, improving to 4-0 under Keefe. He’s also stacked up some impressive save percentages in those four games and seems to be among many Leafs to respond positively to the new way of doing things.
“I just try to enjoy the great atmosphere and have fun out there. That’s what brings out the best in me,” Andersen said Saturday. “It would’ve been nice to take all four points, but we’ll take two.”
Toronto was attempting to square away the entire home-and-home with the Sabres, but the wound up losing the first game Friday by a final score of 6-4. It was Keefe’s first loss and backup goalie Michael Hutchinson had the start. He subsequently became the first Toronto goalie to allow four goals in six straight starts since Ed Belfour did it in 2006.
Despite the loss Friday, Keefe’s decision-making was starting to bear itself out – and that was the main thing was the Maple Leafs rolled to victory in overtime Saturday.
While Babcock would always grant Andersen the first start of consecutive games, Keefe turned it around and gave Hutchinson the nod initially. Andersen came in for the second game and gathered the win.
You could argue this is insignificant and it’s not part of any great scheme to topple a structure and you’d probably be right, but it’s crucial that Toronto starts to see the new bench boss doing things his way and pressing out his focus for the future. Andersen, at least, seems sustained by this approach.
“It was a little different because we didn’t have a skate yesterday because of the early game,” Andersen said. “I was able to skate a little this morning and obviously, we had more of a relaxed morning.”
Toronto outshot Buffalo Saturday, but the Sabres had more high danger chances by a wide margin (15-5) and that’s where Andersen found his bread and butter. He made saves when they mattered most, including on a Conor Sheary blast that headed for video review.
Much has been made about how much fun the Maple Leafs are having and how well Chief Keefe is doing behind the bench. They saw misfortune Friday and rebounded Saturday, mixing up the playbook and spawning different results. That’s a good sign.
Toronto will suit up for another set of successive games starting Tuesday when they face the Flyers and then head back home for the Avalanche Wednesday.
Photo credit: The Canadian Press