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Mark Masters

SPORTSCENTRE Reporter

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With the Leafs trailing on Wednesday night, Sheldon Keefe was tempted to shake things up.

"You remind yourself that we haven't played any exhibition games and we need to give it some time for things to develop and really judge it on a bigger sample than one game, one period, whatever it might be," the coach said. 

All four of the forward lines have a different look this year with at least one fresh face inserted. Toronto's third line features three players who only spent three minutes on the ice together in five-on-five play last season. Alex Kerfoot, Ilya Mikheyev and Zach Hyman struggled to create some chemistry early in Wednesday opener as special teams play disrupted the rhythm of the bench.

"In the third period I really thought that line took hold," said Keefe. "Right after Montreal made it 4-3, that line had a really good shift in the offensive zone and really got us moving and had some really strong shifts to follow up on that throughout the third period." 

Toronto will stick with the same lines and defence pairings against Ottawa. 

Frederik Andersen will start on Friday and Jack Campbell will get the call in Saturday's rematch against the Senators. 

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Some rust was expected early in the season, especially when it comes to getting used to the details of Keefe's system and structure, but there's one area the coach wants cleaned up quickly. 

"We know we allowed Montreal to get in behind us too many times, a couple times at even strength, a couple times on the penalty kill, and we can't allow those type of clean looks at our net," Keefe stressed. "That has to get out of our game quickly." 

The team has made limiting odd-man rushes a priority and the coach is seeing progress on that front.

"I liked how we worked," said Keefe. "I liked how we competed. I liked how we skated. I thought we had some really good structure leaving the offensive zone." 

Keefe also liked how his group battled back from a 3-1 deficit against the Canadiens. Toronto had just two multiple-goal comeback wins in 2019-20. 

"As great as it is to be resilient, it's not a great strategy to be playing from behind," Keefe said. "We need to make sure that we can come out [strong] here today against a very energetic and excited young team in their home opener. They haven't played yet, so they're going to have fresh legs and be jumping and excited to play and we got to make sure we're ready to establish things early."

 

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The Senators have made some significant changes after finishing 30th last season.

"They got a lot more depth, skill and they're hungry to come out here and play hard," said winger Mitch Marner. "They're going to try and take away a lot of stuff on the rush, making us dump and chase and get us off our game. So, for us, it's about being smart with the puck, making sure we're making the right plays, trying to come up as a unit together and when we do have to get it in just trying to find quick exits to get it to the top and get it to the net and ... control the puck."

Of all the additions Ottawa has made the one creating the most buzz is third-overall pick Tim Stützle, who was named the top forward at the World Juniors after leading Germany to its first ever quarterfinal appearance. 

"I'm very curious," said Marner, who was picked fourth overall in 2015. "I watched his World Juniors and he's a hell of a player. He's got a lot of skill in him. He works hard. I mean, what he did for that German team was pretty impressive. It should be fun to play against him tonight and see what he's got. He's very mobile. He's very good at making his own space and creating it and finding people so, for us, it’s about making sure we're staying tight to him, making it hard on him in the O-zone. He's a very good player and it should be fun seeing him first hand here."

The Leafs swept all three games in the Battle of Ontario last season.

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Defenceman Justin Holl finished second on the Leafs in blocked shots last year. 

"He's not afraid to block anyone's shot," said Marner. "Last year, he ate a couple Webers, a couple Ovechkins, so he's willing to do the right things for our team." 

There may not be fear, but there is pain. 

"It hurts pretty bad," Holl admitted with a smile and a grimace. "I ate one of [Shea] Weber's shots the other night right in the hamstring. It was actually nice. It was a nice meaty part of my body instead of being like my knee or something like that, so that's probably the ideal place to take it. But it still didn’t feel very good." 

Holl was credited with two blocked shots against Montreal. 

"As a defenceman, we're involved in the box outs around the net a lot, so a lot of the blocked shots are just pucks that you see coming at you and you try and get in the way of them," Holl said. "On the PK it's more calculated because you start to read where the play's going and if our forward gets beat to the top, and then our second forward is running at the guy in the middle, you know as the right defenceman it's your responsibility flex out on the one timer. So, at that point it's more anticipation than anything and trying and get out there and get your body in the lane as close to the shot as possible. There's definitely an art to it, but at times it just hits you and you're like, 'Well, that's great.'"

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Leafs lineup for Friday’s game in Ottawa: 

Forwards

Thornton - Matthews -  Marner 
Nylander - Tavares - Vesey
Mikheyev - Kerfoot - Hyman 
Barabanov - Spezza - Simmonds 

Defence

Rielly - Brodie (L)
Muzzin - Holl
Dermott - Bogosian 

Goalies

Andersen starts 
Campbell 

Taxi Squad/scratches: Nick Robertson, Travis Boyd, Adam Brooks, Rasmus Sandin, Mikko Lehtonen and Aaron Dell