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Sheldon Keefe Is On The Hot Seat, And By Now, He Definitely Knows It

Before the Toronto Maple Leafs game against the Detroit Red Wings this past Sunday, Jonas Siegal from The Athletic reported that Sheldon Keefe was making some major changes to his line up dropping Matthew Knies off of the top line down to the fourth line and replacing him with Pontus Holmberg who played alongside Auston Matthews and William Nylander. He also dropped Tavares down to the third line to play with Nick Robertson and Calle Jarnkrok while upgrading Max Domi to the second line to play with Tyler Bertuzzi and Mitch Marner. 

Blown Leads Spark Change

These changes came from the back of two straight games where the Maple Leafs blew multi-goal leads, some of which worked. Pontus Holmberg deflected home a Morgan Reilly shot pass and Mitch Marner scored the Maple Leafs second goal which Tyler Bertuzzi assisted. On top of both lines scoring, the Maple Leafs top two lines had expected goal percentages at 70% or higher. 

Even though the top two lines scored, the changes didn’t end up achieving Keefe’s desired outcome as the Maple Leafs ended up losing 4-2 to the Red Wings after blowing another lead and scoring the game's opening goal in the first period. But in all honesty, the Maple Leafs did not play that badly in this game, they ended with more expected goals, scoring chances, and high-danger chances than the Red Wings in this contest, The only place they lost was on the actual scoreboard, and honestly, a lot of the loss can be put on one crucial coaching decision made by Sheldon Keefe made late in the third.

Keefe's Late Game Coaching Blunder

There were 1:50 seconds left in the third period in a 2-2 tie when Sheldon Keefe sent the fourth line out for what turned out to be the most crucial shift of the game. Barely 10 seconds later this line gave up the game-winning goal to Andrew Copp who fired a shot from the top of the slot past five Toronto defenders and Ilya Samsonov for the game-winning goal. 

On the night, the Maple Leafs fourth line consisting of Matthew Knies, Noah Gregor, and David Kamph was the worst line for the Maple Leafs by far posting a 33.81% expected goals percentage and a 33.33% scoring chance percentage in the game. This line was on the ice for less than eight minutes at five-on-five and allowed the same amount of scoring chances as the other three lines did in their combined 32:22 minutes on the ice at five-on-five.

Not only were these guys bad defensively during this game, but it is a consistent issue with David Kamph ranking in the 36th percentile and  Noah Gregor ranking in the 8th percentile in  Forward Defensive WAR over the last three seasons (via JFreshHockey). Guys like this cannot be on the ice in this situation against a divisional opponent who is right on your heels in the standings trying to chase you down for a playoff spot. 

This is one bad decision, and in hindsight, it is very easy to critique, but I think it is indicative of Sheldon Keefe’s lack of attention to detail on the defensive side of the puck as the Leafs. In his four and three-quarters years as the Maple Leafs head coach Sheldon Keefe has failed to boast a defense that has finished in the top six in expected goals allowed at five on five, and for a team with Stanley Cup aspirations, that is where you need to be defensively as four of the last five Stanley Cup winners have finished top six in this stat.

What Lies Ahead?

After ranking inside the top 10 in expected goals allowed per game in 2020-21 and 2021-22, the Maple Leafs took a step back last year in this stat ranking outside of the top 10 and have fallen off of a cliff this year currently ranking 24th in expected goals allowed per game at five on five. 

That on top of the Maple Leafs' 15-17 record against bottom five teams over the last two seasons makes me think this team just isn’t responding to Sheldon Keefe’s messages anymore and if these trends continue, Sheldon Keefe’s seat will only get hotter and it may get to the point where the Maple Leafs need to go in a new direction with their head coach.


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