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Team Reset

Toronto Maple Leafs season snapshot

New coach Keefe, play of Matthews, Nylander have them third in Atlantic

by Mike Zeisberger @Zeisberger / NHL.com Staff Writer

With the NHL pausing the 2019-20 regular season on March 12 due to the concerns surrounding the coronavirus, NHL.com is taking stock of each of the League's 31 teams.

Today, a snapshot of the Toronto Maple Leafs at the pause:

 

Toronto Maple Leafs

Record: 36-25-9, 81 points

Playoff position: Third place in Atlantic Division, three points ahead of Florida Panthers; 11 points behind Tampa Bay Lightning for second

A season of great promise for the Toronto Maple Leafs quickly became a roller-coaster ride that has featured a coaching change, personal highs, injuries to key players and inconsistent play.

The signing of forward Mitchell Marner to a six-year contract Sept. 13 appeared to remove the final distraction for Toronto. But a 9-10-4 start resulted in the firing of coach Mike Babcock, who was replaced by Sheldon Keefe on Nov. 20. The Maple Leafs are 27-15-5 under Keefe, who coached their American Hockey League affiliate, the Toronto Marlies, from 2015-19.

 

More Maple Leafs season snapshot coverage: Awards | Fantasy honors | Memorable moments

 

Keefe's emphasis on up-tempo play has helped several players to NHL career bests. Auston Matthews (47) and William Nylander (31) each has set an NHL career high for goals, and Zach Hyman has tied his previous best of 21. Matthews is on pace to become the fourth player to score at least 50 goals in a season with the Maple Leafs, joining Rick Vaive (1981-82, 1982-83, 1983-84), Gary Leeman (1989-90) and Dave Andreychuk (1992-93, 1993-94).

Only Matthews and defenseman Tyson Barrie have played in each of Toronto's 70 games. The biggest loss was defenseman Morgan Rielly, who missed 23 games with a broken foot before returning March 10.

The Maple Leafs have been plagued by inconsistency as well. They had a six-game winning streak (Dec. 14-27) and went six straight without a win (0-5-1 from Nov. 9-19).

Video: Top 10 Maple Leafs Plays ... Thus Far

 

Breakout player

William Nylander: The forward has never lacked talent or confidence and has figured out how to combine those two in order to take the next step. His swagger was on display when he said at the 2019 NHL European Player Media Tour in Stockholm in August, "I'm looking forward to this season to dominate." He surpassed his previous NHL career high of 22 goals (2016-17) on Jan. 27 and was two points from setting a new NHL high for points at the pause (61 in 2016-17 and 2017-18). Criticized at times in the past for playing to the outside too much, Nylander has adopted a penchant of scoring in the dirty areas near the goal crease. He is second to Matthews on the Maple Leafs in goals, and his nine power-play goals are three behind Matthews for the Toronto lead.

Video: TOR@ANA: Nylander beats Miller for 30th goal of year

 

Statement win

Maple Leafs 3, Arizona Coyotes 1, Nov. 21: One day after Keefe replaced Babcock as coach, Toronto responded with arguably its most complete game of the season. Barrie scored his first goal in 24 games with the Maple Leafs at 19:14 of the first period to give them a 1-0 lead. A shorthanded goal by Pierre Engvall in the second period made it 2-0, and Matthews gave Toronto a 3-0 lead early in the third. Keefe was presented with the game puck by captain John Tavares after the game.

Video: Maple Leafs top Coyotes in Keefe's debut

 

Most compelling game

Carolina Hurricanes 6, Maple Leafs 3, Feb. 22: With Carolina goalies James Reimer and Petr Mrazek each injured during the game, emergency backup goalie Ayres was forced into action at 11:19 of the second period with the Hurricanes leading 4-1. The 42-year-old, who is a practice goalie for the Maple Leafs, made the save on eight of 10 shots he faced to win his NHL debut and become an instant celebrity, appearing on "The Today Show" and "The Late Show with Stephen Colbert."

Video: CAR@TOR: Ayres makes history as emergency backup

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