It has been exactly one month since the Toronto Maple Leafs fired head coach Mike Babcock and replaced him with Sheldon Keefe and the team has responded to the move by playing some of its best hockey of the year.
Since the coaching change on Nov. 20, Toronto has won eight of their 12 games under their new bench boss, including four of their last five contests heading into their latest tilt Friday night at Madison Square Garden against the New York Rangers.
What makes the Leafs’ 8-4 record under Keefe even more impressive is that all but one of those dozen games were against teams who currently occupy a playoff spot.
After Thursday’s practice, Keefe told the assembled media that his team hasn’t even scratched the surface of its potential.
“I still think that we have a long way to go, which just speaks to the potential,” said Keefe. “It’s not a negative of our group ’cause I think we’ve done a lot of good things.
“I just think we have a lot more to give and a lot more to grow and that’s exciting.”
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After eyeballing Toronto’s upcoming slate of games, a month from now the Maple Leafs could very well leapfrog past a number of teams and into a playoff spot.
Ten of the Leafs’ next 14 games are against non-playoff teams and they only have five back-to-back games the rest of the way, after playing four of them in October alone and seven back-to-backs so far this season.
The immediate future of the club looks a lot more promising than it did when the Leafs ended the Babcock era on a miserable six-game losing streak, however, I do agree with Keefe that the team has a ‘long way to go.’
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Mitch Marner, Zach Hyman and Travis Dermott have returned from somewhat lengthy stays on the injured list and are playing well, but all three haven’t quite hit their peak yet.
Toronto is also bound to get some wins from their backup goalie, the first of which could come Saturday night against the last-place Detroit Red Wings when Michael Hutchinson looks to break his personal goose egg after starting the season 0-5-1 along with an atrocious 4.55 goals-against average and .876 save percentage.
Keefe’s honeymoon period with the Leafs may be over but he will continue to play a major part in getting his troops to give more and achieve their full potential this season, and beyond.