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Maple Leafs get Goalied by Coyotes but Keefe not Letting Team off the Hook

Karel Vejmelka made 45 saves as the Arizona Coyotes goaltender ruined a homecoming for Toronto Maple Leafs forwards Auston Matthews and Michael Bunting.

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Toronto Maple Leafs head coach Sheldon Keefe challenged his team to put forth a better effort after his club squandered a third-period lead against the Vegas Golden Knights one night earlier.

They certainly flew out of the chute and fired everything they could at the Arizona Coyotes on Wednesday. Twenty of their 46 shots on goal came in the first period and they controlled the play for much of the game.

But Karel Vejmelka decided to have one of those nights as the Coyotes upset the Maple Leafs 2-1. 

There was one blemish.

Early in the third period, Auston Matthews scored Toronto's lone tally to extend his road goal-scoring streak to a franchise-record nine games. 

With his family in attendance, Matthews looked to put on a show in the area he calls home, but all he could do was look up in the sky with a smile of disbelief when Vejmelka made an incredible toe save on the star forward followed by a glove save in the late stages of the second period.

"Sometimes you really have to tip your hat," Matthews said of Arizona's goaltender. "I thought we really controlled the play for the most part of the game."

In fact, the Leafs did deserve a better outcome. They had an expected goals rate of 74 percent and Vejmelka saved 4.89 goals above expected, according to NaturalStatTrick.com. But none of this was enough to satisfy Maple Leafs coach Sheldon Keefe.

"We generated more than enough to score far more than we did but didn't execute and find ways to make it harder on the goaltender once he got into a groove," Keefe lamented.

As has been the case for much of the team's road trip out west, the Leafs failed to capitalize on early power-play chances. Ryan Dzingel scored the first of his goals on the night in the first period, shortly after Toronto's second chance with the man advantage.

The Leafs continued to apply pressure into the second period and were finally rewarded on Matthews' goal in the third period, but a lapse in play allowed the Coyotes to push back against Toronto's attack allowed Dzingel to cash in on his second of the night.

"I thought in that third period we seemed like we hit a wall and we stopped playing," Keefe said. "A huge chunk of time in that third period. No life, no energy on our bench at a time when we needed it. That to me is a sign of fatigue." 

The Leafs have played five games since a COVID-19 outbreak forced a pause in their schedule last month. They've had lots of days in between games to recover, but this was their first instance of playing on back-to-back nights. 

Keefe wasn't thrilled about losing to the worst team in the NHL's Western Conference, which yielded other concerns.

"[It] makes me start to wonder about our conditioning and where we're at there," Keefe said. "Clearly we've got to find ways to be rising to the occasion at the right times rather than falling flat."

Petr Mrazek played in his first game in over a month in goal. Toronto's backup goaltender made 16 saves on 18 shots. Defenseman Timothy Liljegren entered into the lineup for his first game since Dec. 14. 

Both had moments of rust. 

Liljegren had a miscommunication with teammate Travis Dermott in behind their net and that allowed Dzingel to score his first goal. Mrazek missed a poke check on a 2-on-1 that allowed for the Coyotes forward to score his second goal

Whether it's fatigue or rust, Keefe refused to let his team have a pass in this game and this is nothing new.

After seeing his team disappoint at times over the last couple of years, Keefe has held firm about holding his team accountable in games either won or lost, if that game didn't hold a certain standard.

If the team loses and doesn't score a lot of goals, his team has failed. Scoring is the team's identity and shot attempts and possession alone, isn't enough to carry the day.

Toronto used Colorado and Vegas as a measuring stick. Keefe wanted his team to feel aggravated about seeing third-period leads in those games get erased. Instead, they yielded no points in Arizona.

Now he had to try and stop it from becoming a habit.

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