NHL Game Preview - Maple Leafs v Coyotes

 
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6:00 PM PT7:00 PM MT8:00 PM CT9:00 PM ET2:00 GMT10:00 7:00 PM MST9:00 PM EST6:00 UAE (+1)21:00 ET0:00 BRT, November 21, 2019
Gila River Arena, Glendale, Arizona  Attendance: 12,495

After Babcock firing, Leafs continue trip at Arizona

Toronto Maple Leafs at Arizona Coyotes

  1. The Coyotes won both meetings with the Maple Leafs last season and posted a 2-0 shutout in Toronto's lone visit to Arizona in 2018-19. Toronto is just 4-12-2 against the Coyotes since the start of the 2015-16 season -- its worst record against any team in that time frame -- but has won two of its last three road games in the series.
  2. Toronto has lost six consecutive games (0-5-1), the franchise longest skid since a six-game slide from Feb. 27-March 7, 2016, and will play its first game under new coach Sheldon Keefe. The last two Toronto coaches (Mike Babcock, Peter Horachek) lost in regulation in their debuts, and the last Leafs coach to win his first game with the team was Randy Carlyle on March 3, 2012.
  3. The Coyotes opened their current homestand with 3-0 wins over Calgary and Los Angeles and will be bidding for their first three-game shutout streak since March 29-April 3, 2012. The last team to record three consecutive shutouts on home ice was the Blue Jackets from Feb. 25-March 7, 2017.
  4. Arizona native Auston Matthews returns to his home state and has one goal and one assist in three previous road games against the Coyotes. Matthews has scored 13 of his 14 goals this season at home, and his 0.90 difference in goals per game between home (1.00) and road (0.10) is the largest of any player this season.
  5. The Coyotes lead the NHL in goals-against average (2.23), while Toronto has allowed four or more goals in five straight games for the first time since March 13-21, 2015. The last time the Maple Leafs permitted four-plus goals in six straight games within a season was an eight-game stretch in January 2006.
  6. Connor Garland recorded his team-leading 10th goal of the season in Arizona's win over the Kings on Monday, giving him 23 in 69 games since making his NHL debut last December. Garland is the quickest to get to 23 goals in a Coyotes uniform since Lee Stempniak did so in his 60th game in 2011.
FILE - In this April 25, 2019, file photo, Toronto Maple Leafs coach Mike Babcock speaks to reporters in Toronto. The Maple Leafs fired Babcock on Wednesday, Nov. 20, 2019, and replaced him with Sheldon Keefe. (Christopher Katsarov/The Canadian Press via AP, File)

The Toronto Maple Leafs have officially turned the page on the Mike Babcock era, firing the head coach on Wednesday, 23 games into his fifth season with the team.

Sheldon Keefe, who previously led the AHL affiliate Toronto Marlies, will make his debut as an NHL coach on Thursday night when the Leafs visit the Arizona Coyotes.

"Mike's commitment and tireless work ethic has put our organization in a better place and we are extremely grateful and appreciative of the foundation he has helped us build here," team president Brendan Shanahan said in a statement. "At this time, we collectively felt that it was best to make a change to Sheldon Keefe."

The news came a day after the Maple Leafs lost 4-2 to the Vegas Golden Knights for their sixth straight loss. The defeat followed a players-only meeting, addressing issues from a 9-10-4 start to the season.

The Leafs will be playing their third game on a six-game road trip against a team that has won four of its past five, including two consecutive 3-0 shutouts at home Monday over the Los Angeles Kings and Saturday against the Calgary Flames.

"We talked about what we needed to talk about and it was just an open discussion with the players and get a clear view on what we think needs to happen. ..." Maple Leafs defenseman Jake Muzzin said, before Babcock's firing. "When you have a lot of skill guys and a team that is skilled, you just rely on the skill sometimes and it takes more than that."

The Maple Leafs played a stronger game against the Golden Knights, whose goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury might have made the difference, particularly with a spectacular save in the third period.

Toronto has been playing without Mitch Marner (sprained ankle), Alex Kerfoot (dental fractures) and Trevor Moore (shoulder). Kerfoot likely will be the first to return.

After playing nine of 13 games on the road, the Coyotes are on a stretch with six of eight at home, with seven Pacific Division opponents in that stretch.

The Maple Leafs are an exception, playing in the Atlantic Division, but their star center Auston Matthews was raised in Scottsdale, Ariz.

"These are the games you need to win," Coyotes left winger Lawson Crouse said of the two-week stretch. "They're against your division and you can't be throwing those points away. It's big."

"This week here, at least we're home a little bit," Coyotes coach Rick Tocchet said. "Before it was like a game or two and we're out of here."

Tocchet said his team is still looking to define itself.

"We're still trying to put structure in that identity," Tocchet said. "We're trying to find who we are. We're getting there. I mean, we really defend the puck well, and things like that are helping to create our identity. But it's always a work in progress. All the really good hockey clubs, you know nine times out of 10 you're getting that identity."

While the Maple Leafs have been trying to improve their backup goaltending behind starter Frederik Andersen, the Coyotes have a strong combination in Darcy Kuemper and Antti Raanta, who each earned a shutout Saturday and Monday, respectively. Kuemper has two shutouts in 14 games this season, and Raanta has one in eight games.

Kuemper has a league-best 1.85 goals-against average and the best save percentage (.938) among goaltenders who have started more than 10 games.

--Field Level Media

Updated November 21, 2019

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