Maple Leafs’ Offence or Defence – Does Sheldon Keefe Have a Favourite?

Imagine being the Toronto Maple Leafs’ Sheldon Keefe during this training camp. It might be hard to do, unless you’re a parent, with two or more kids. Although you’d never admit it, you’ve got a favourite. Don’t worry, it’s our secret. But for Keefe, who is his favourite: Team Matthews or Team Andersen?

Related: 7 Cool Things About Auston Matthews

As you may recall, the Leafs’ split the squad and named it the “House Divided Series.” The bromance of Auston Matthews and Frederik Anderson was split up. They were each named captain and assigned a roster of players. Team Matthews is all offence, including the top six forwards, while Team Andersen is a defence-first team. As THW’s own Pete Bauer points out, a defence-first team sounds an awful lot like the Columbus Blue Jackets, whom the Leafs will meet for a five-game play-in series starting August 2.

Matthews Tavares Andersen Maple Leafs
Toronto Maple Leafs goaltender Frederik Andersen celebrates with John Tavares and Auston Matthews. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn)

The teams split the opening two games, but they were both sloppy, which is expected at any training camp. Game 3 looked much more game-like with players at full speed, crisp passes, set plays and even a few corner battles. The Matthews offensive team blew out the Andersen defensive squad, 5-0. If you’re Keefe, which child – or group, is your favourite?

The Pros and Cons of a House Divided

Let’s look at the positive side. The Leafs’ big guns are looking really good. Matthews, who had previously been diagnosed with COVID-19, admitted his conditioning wasn’t where he wanted it to be. He was off the ice for more than two weeks while he was quarantined before camp started. Although he says he still has room to improve, if you watched him play, you know, he is looking much better.

Ilya Mikheyev is precisely what his teammates have been raving about. He looks dynamic, his shooting and passing are on point, and his stride is effortless. John Tavares looks like he never missed a beat. You may remember he did suffer a broken finger at the beginning of the season. While he did have a good season stats-wise, he didn’t always dominate the play the way he usually does. Mitch Marner is doing what Mitch Marner does. He is crafty with the stick and using his feet to make plays. You get the point; the offence is good.

Related: 3 Maple Leafs Benefitting From the NHL Pause

Now to the other side. It’s not a good look when the defence-first team gives up five goals, even if it is against some of the best players in the league. That said, it could’ve been much more lopsided. The Matthews squad was relentless with scoring chances. It is a scrimmage, so no one wants Andersen to overextend himself. He did slow down on a few third and fourth chances. However, five goals scored is still a lot.

Columbus Blue Jackets Nick Foligno Toronto Maple Leafs Auston Matthews
Columbus Blue Jackets left wing Nick Foligno protects the puck from Toronto Maple Leafs centre Auston Matthews (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn)

Here is the conundrum. Let’s not fool ourselves, Team Andersen is not at the same level as the John Tortorella-coached defensive-powerhouse Blue Jackets. Generating five goals against Columbus is highly unlikely. However, those same Blue Jackets don’t have the same explosive offensive weapons that the Leafs have at their disposal.

Again, I’ll ask, if you’re Keefe, which one do you want to succeed? If Team Andersen shut out Team Matthews, it would be big trouble for the offence, but it would mean the defence is getting it. A blow out the other way says Toronto still knows how to score, but the question remains, can they defend? This is why parents never admit which one is their favourite.