The Toronto Maple Leafs embark on what can only be called the most unusual campaign, with the season opener against the Montreal Canadiens at Scotiabank Arena on Wednesday in front of no fans. The Leafs will play the other six Canadian clubs in a 56-game intra-division schedule and hope to make the postseason for the fifth straight year with a roster including newcomers Joe Thornton, Wayne Simmonds, Jimmy Vesey, Alexander Barabanov, TJ Brodie and Zach Bogosian.
"The vibe is really good, the guys are really enjoying coming together the way that they have and the work that they've put in over the last week to 10 days to get ready to play real games. There's lots of excitement," Keefe said. "We've got to be really prepared here, and ready to find a whole another level. You don't have the exhibition games to get into the feel of playing against another opponent and you're right into it today and the urgency and excitement will be high. It's going to even be even more of a shock to the system and it's one that we hope, because of the work that's been put in over the last 10 days that we're ready for."
After cutting their roster earlier this week, the Leafs announced their five-man taxi squad of forwards Nick Robertson, Adam Brooks and Travis Boyd, and defensemen Mikko Lehtonen and Rasmus Sandin, but it is likely that these players will see action at some point with a compacted grueling schedule.
"We're not going with the taxi squad designation anymore. We're going with the "stay ready" squad and I think that speaks to the mindset that we need." Keefe said after an optional morning skate on Wednesday. "These guys have to stay ready (and) they've got to continue to work. It's also a reminder for us as a coaching staff that we've got to do our part to keep them ready."
The Leafs will go with the line combinations and defensive pairings that have skated together for the second half of training camp. Auston Matthews centers the top line with Thornton and Mitch Marner, John Tavares is in between Vesey and William Nylander, Alex Kerfoot plays up the middle with Ilya Mikheyev and Zach Hyman, and the fourth line of Jason Spezza, Barabanov and Simmonds.
Brodie will partner with Morgan Rielly on the top pairing, Jake Muzzin and Justin Holl are reunited, and the bottom pairing will be made up of Travis Dermott and Bogosian.
Frederik Andersen will start in his fifth straight opener for Toronto, facing Montreal’s Carey Price.
An interesting, fun, scary season to come... enjoy it.
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