It’s no secret that special teams can make or break hockey games and that the top teams in the NHL are leading the way in that department. The Leafs are currently sitting 25th in penalty killing and now 10th in powerplay percentage, these numbers have improved since Keefe took over the club 8 games ago. If we gave Keefe a 5 game trial period and just look at the last 3 games they have killed 9/10 penalties scoring a short-handed goal and have gone 2/4 on the PP, it definitely helps that Marner is back but putting Barrie on the top unit which was an obvious choice but one that Babs wouldn’t budge on has paid off quickly. I’ve been trying hard not to pump Keefe’s tires too much but it’s honestly hard not to. He puts 6’5” Pierre Engvall on the ice with his 10-foot long stick to kill penalties and all of a sudden the PK looks completely different, under Keefe Engvall has an SH goal and he set up Hyman perfectly shorthanded Vs St. Louis on Saturday night. Killing a penalty is one thing but scoring short-handed provides a huge momentum shift in the game, not only taking the wind out of the sails of the opposing team but putting a goal up for your team is huge.
The next 3 games will be a huge test for the PK facing the 1st, 4th and 21st ranked powerplays in the league with Van and Edm leading the way in PP goals. The best way to kill penalties is to stay out of the box but they always seem to end up in the sin bin regardless so Engvall and Hyman will need to bring their A+ games. I used to wonder if we would ever score on the PP again but pucks are starting to find the back of the net on the man advantage and the squad is gaining confidence even though they rank 28th in PP opportunities. They will be facing the 2nd, 8th and 15th ranked penalty kills on the west coast Canadian tour starting tomorrow so we shall wait and see if they can get the job done. Confidence is often widely underlooked as there is no stats to back it but in my opinion, is the biggest contributor to success especially to a skill-based team like the Leafs. They are and should feel good going into this trip after chasing Binnington out of the last game and I’m looking for it to continue tomorrow night in Vancouver.