‘A BETTER TEAM WITH AUSTON’: New Maple Leafs lineup tested against Rangers

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If there’s one aspect of Auston Matthews’ return to the Maple Leafs on Monday night that excites Sheldon Keefe, it’s that all parts of his new-looking power play are finally on show.

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“That’s one area, of course, where we want to improve a lot by looking back at last season,” the coach said before facing the New York Rangers. “It’s been a bigger challenge not having him in preseason games and the practice reps are minimal with Auston present.

“We tried to imitate him, keeping Ilya Mikheyev there as a left shot, but it’s not exactly the same. We look forward to getting there today and building from there. “

New assistant coach Spencer Carbery drew up a new power play plan this summer that puts Mitch Marner in the bumper position, Matthews and William Nylander on the wings and John Tavares in front of the net. But the confrontations, conclusions and advice are among the general improvements that Matthews brings after some time off with wrist surgery.

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“It makes us a deeper team,” Keefe said. “I thought everyone did a good job in his absence, but after today, everyone is a little different. We have moved the lines (Alex Kerfoot joins Czechs David Kampf and Ondrej Kase on the left wing, pushing Pierre Engvall to the fourth row with Jason Spezza and Wayne Simmonds), but we know we are a better team with Auston. “

Rangers coach Gerard Gallant joked that he wished Matthews had waited one more game for his return. New York won its first game Saturday in Montreal and is now 1-1-1, but the absences have mounted.

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On a list of early season outings, Ryan Strome has failed to comply with COVID-19 protocol and then Kaapo Kakko moved to IR after an upper body injury against the Canadiens. They are two forwards in the top six and while there is still a formidable front row with Alexis Lafreniere, Mika Zibanejad and Chris Kreider, a winger must be found for second liners Artemi Panarin and Filip Chytil.

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Gallant would not name a starting goalkeeper between Igor Shesterkin and Alexandar Georgiev.

Justin Holl returns to Toronto’s defense after missing Saturday’s win over Ottawa with a bad cold. That will put Timothy Liljegren back in the stands, while Michael Amadio sits in his first game with the return of Matthews. Free from salary cap restrictions, the club can use Michael Hutchinson as a backup to Jack Campbell.

After more than 70 regular season, playoff and preseason games against the same six Canadian teams since January, the Rangers are the first American team to face Toronto.

“They are different,” Keefe joked. “But they have a balance of veterans and youngsters who are very talented and skilled. You can see some of the similarities that Gerard brought back from Las Vegas. Forecheck and pressure are a big part of this, attacking the network.

“There is much more preparation because you are familiarizing yourself again. Last year I spent a lot less time watching teams (outside of the North Division). It’s a good opportunity for our staff to give them different projects for them to see. “

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