If the Toronto Maple Leafs are ever going to get out of the first round, they can’t have their power play flounder down the stretch.
“It was a major priority for us going into the off-season and we looked at it from lots of different directions coming out of the Montreal series,” Toronto's head coach Sheldon Keefe said Tuesday during an appearance on Real Kyper and Bourne.
Keefe explained he’s optimistic the coaching and tactical changes the team made to the man advantage will lead to more success and consistency.
Toronto scored the sixth-most goals during the regular season in 2020-21, but finished with the 16th-ranked power play and only managed to score a paltry three times on 23 power-play opportunities against the Canadiens in the post-season.
The team hired Spencer Carbery as a new assistant coach after Dave Hakstol left to become the inaugural head coach of the Seattle Kraken.
Carbery, who was named 2020-21 AHL coach of the year after leading the Hershey Bears to a 24-7-2 record, was brought on in part to help improve the power play. Carbery is taking over that role from Manny Malhotra, who remains on the coaching staff.
“We feel we’re better than the way we performed in the playoffs (and) in the second half leading up to the playoffs in the regular season,” Keefe said. “That didn’t give us a great deal of confidence going in and we believe the power play is something that needs to feed the offensive confidence of the team. We had to address that and we feel confident that we have.”
By moving Mitch Marner into the bumper position and having a fresh set of eyes in Carbery oversee the units, Keefe is optimistic Toronto can be more effective in that aspect of the game – although he acknowledged not having Auston Matthews is a speed bump.
The team didn’t have a full training camp with league’s leading goal scorer and the star winger won’t be ready for Wednesday’s season opener against the Canadiens.
“We don’t have a great sense of what this could look like and what it can be (without Matthews) but we’re happy with what has been done and how we’ve worked through camp,” Keefe said before noting, “We’re happy with it early on here, but as you recall we had the No. 1 power play in the NHL for the first couple months of the season last season, so we want to get off to a good start here again and make sure that level of consistency is going to be there.”
Keefe had no update on Marner, who left practice early Tuesday after colliding with teammate Wayne Simmonds.