Third liner Phil Kessel. Seems about right. Anyway, here are 5 things to watch for…
Better state the obvious and state it repeatedly. So, it’s the first game and he has had a morning skate with the players and that’s it. We’re probably not getting new systems, new lines, new defense pairings, and Pierre Engvall is not the new net presence on the power play. This will be a bit of an observation game and Keefe will get a chance to look at what he’s going to want to change will starting to give his players a bit of an idea of what he’s all about.
Player ice time is probably going to be what stands out the most tonight, as well as any later in the game adjustments. I’m expecting we’ll see less line matching, and less of the fourth line in general, though that might be projecting my wishes onto Keefe, something I think a lot of us will be doing.
It’s the worst kept secret in hockey that Barrie and Babcock weren’t seeing eye to eye, and with the change also comes the assumption that Tyson Barrie now has the green light to be the offensive dynamo he once was. A statement game would be lovely, but at this point I’d settle for him looking comfortable out there.
Matthews is free to be Matthews and what better place to do it than in the comfort of his own home. He’s going to be looking to put on a show, and he’s likely to see more ice time to do it. I’d be scared if I was the the Coyotes, and tonight be the night when the Leafs witness the firepower of this fully armed and operational battle station.
It’s going to take more than one game for players to get written off, and the roster overhauled to suit what Keefe wants to do, but we’ll likely see some line blending throughout the game and possibly some changes to the D pairings. It will be interesting to see who is most effected.
If I had to guess, players that will see change for the good: Tyson Barrie, Travis Dermott, Jason Spezza, and Pierre Engvall
Players I’d expect to see icetime reduced or find their way to the press box: Cody Ceci, Freddie Gauthier, and Nick Shore
Dubas recently praised Ceci, and I think some of that is sincere, but even with that praise and the high likelihood he remains in the lineup, I can’t imagine he’ll continue to see top pairing minutes and we might see that beginning of the transition away from that tonight.
I know it’s a late game, but aren’t excited to tune in for the first time in a while? The Leafs still have a huge hill to climb to get into the playoffs, but it seems possible again and that it will at least be fun to watch them try. Also without Keefe putting in his own systems that means the Leafs players are free to be themselves out there, and a lot of them are really fun hockey players. Hooray!
The game starts at 9PM ET and can be found on Sportsnet.