The Toronto Maple Leafs are gearing up for another season of National Hockey League play in which they'll try to exercise the demons that have haunted them for the past several years.
So far, they enjoy a 2-1 record in exhibition play that has included victories over the rival Montreal Canadiens and Ottawa Senators. As there are several young players challenging for roster spots as the regular season approaches, head coach Sheldon Keefe and his staff will certainly have their hands full when it comes to determining the final list.
How does he feel about his team's compete level so far in camp and in pre-season play?
"I have, but I think we had a bit of a dip late in the last week, which was really understandable. I knew last week was going to be a challenge. We chose to give them the early day off after the third day. We thought the first three days were going to be challenging, and they were. With the way the schedule is set up, we were going to have five consecutive days, which is a lot.
We have been pushing the guys and have had longer practices than we would ever have in season. We expected a bit of a dip going into the Blue and White game, and I think we saw that. They got a day off yesterday, and I liked the energy and pace that we had today.
I can tell we have a lot of guys who want to get on with it. The fact that we have back-to-back games coming up, I think, is going to be helpful for that. We do expect, as we push past Tuesday, that the group will be significantly reduced. That will allow us to focus in a bit more on that final game."
The Leafs and general manager Kyle Dubas saw fit to reward Keefe, who replaced Mike Babcock during the 2019-20 season, with a two-year contract extension. Needless to say, this will be a make or break year for the team following four consecutive first round playoff losses, the most recent of which came this past spring after blowing a 3-1 series lead to the Habs.