Toronto Maple Leafs head coach Sheldon Keefe was behind the bench at Scotiabank Arena as an NHL bench boss for the first time on Saturday, and he soaked it all in as his club skated to a 2-1 overtime victory over the Buffalo Sabres.
"It was fun being here," Keefe said postgame. "Different circumstances than when I've been here in the past. Fitting that the Marlies were in the building this afternoon, that's more what I'm familiar with. It's nice. It's special. A lot of my family here to enjoy it as well. It wasn't the prettiest game at times, but we found a way to get the two points and finish off a good week here."
Keefe, a native of Brampton, took over for the fired Mike Babcock on Nov. 20, while the Leafs were in the midst of a road trip.
Keefe coached in the building during his time with the Toronto Marlies, but he noticed the difference in the arena's atmosphere on a Saturday night with the big club.
"Fans are into it. There's a lot of them. It's a big crowd. It's nice to be at home. As I said, I've been in this environment before but never quite like this. Never quite as full and never quite as much emotion and energy and all those types of things. It was nice and we're hoping it gets better from here," Keefe said.
Toronto's transition to Keefe's systems has been successful so far, as the club improved to 4-1 under their new leader with Saturday's victory.
Making his first NHL start, the 25-year-old journeyman stopped all 27 shots he faced for the Florida Panthers in their 3-0 victory over the Nashville Predators. The memorable evening had Driedger lost for words.
"Honestly, I'm speechless at this point," he told reporters postgame. "It's been a long time coming. I was nervous, but as soon as the puck dropped it felt good."
A long time coming indeed. Driedger has played in the minors for seven seasons with seven different teams - in addition to suiting up for three relief appearances with the Ottawa Senators - before getting the nod Saturday. He spent a significant amount of time in the ECHL - two levels below the NHL - over the last few years.
Driedger was called up to the Panthers to start in place of a struggling Sergei Bobrovsky after posting a sparkling .938 save percentage in 14 games with the AHL's Springfield Thunderbirds this season.
The Winnipeg native left quite an impression on his coaches and teammates.
Ron Francis said Saturday that during his tenure as Carolina Hurricanes general manager, he was made aware of physical incidents involving two players and then-Hurricanes coach Bill Peters. Francis says he took immediate action and briefed ownership.
However, three days ago, former Carolina principal owner Peter Karmanos denied knowledge of the event and said he would've fired Peters "in a nanosecond" if he'd been told about the abuse.
On Tuesday, ex-Hurricanes defenseman Michal Jordan accused Peters of physical abuse, saying the coach kicked him while on the bench during a game and punched another player in the head.
A day earlier, former NHLer Akim Aliu tweeted that Peters directed racial slurs toward him a decade ago while with the Rockford IceHogs, the Chicago Blackhawks' AHL affiliate.
Peters coached the Hurricanes for four seasons before taking the head coaching job with the Calgary Flames prior to the 2018-19 season. He penned an apology letter to Flames GM Brad Treliving on Wednesday where he admitted using a racial slur, but he did not address the physical abuse allegations. Peters resigned as Calgary's bench boss on Friday.
Francis served as Carolina's general manager for four years before he was let go in April 2018. He gave Peters a contract extension after the 2015-16 campaign - Jordan's last NHL season. Francis was hired as GM of the upcoming Seattle NHL team this past summer.
Karmanos is still a minority owner of the Hurricanes, but he was the majority owner from 1994 to 2018 before selling controlling interest of the club to Tom Dundon.
The club has started to listen to teams looking to acquire the star forward, reports TSN's Pierre LeBrun, who adds that while it doesn't mean a trade is certain, Devils general manager Ray Shero is now in "listening mode."
Shero met face-to-face with Hall's agent Darren Ferris earlier this month.
Hall, a pending unrestricted free agent, is in the final season of the seven-year, $42-million contract he inked with the Edmonton Oilers in 2012.
Shero said in March there was "zero chance" he was going to trade the 2017-18 Hart Trophy winner at the 2018-19 trade deadline.
However, after a busy offseason that included the additions of P.K. Subban, Nikita Gusev, and first overall pick Jack Hughes, New Jersey enters Saturday's action with the second-worst record in the Eastern Conference.
The Florida Panthers' new $70-million netminder will be riding the bench Saturday when the club takes on the Nashville Predators, as head coach Joel Quenneville is opting to start recently recalled goalie Chris Driedger over the struggling Sergei Bobrovsky.
"We expected to give (Driedger) a game on a merit-based basis by how he played in camp, how he played down there last year and this year," Quenneville told The Athletic's George Richards.
"We will see how he handles what is a great opportunity for him. Bob will certainly get back in there soon. This is not a scheduled start, but that is where it's at."
Bobrovsky signed a seven-year contract with the Panthers this past summer that made him the league's second-highest-paid goalie at $10 million per season.
The two-time Vezina Trophy winner was expected to help push a talented Florida roster to the next level. But through 21 appearances this season, Bobrovsky owns the NHL's second-worst save percentage at .884.
The 31-year-old Russian seemed to draw Quenneville's ire while allowing four goals on 20 shots versus the Washington Capitals on Wednesday in his most recent start.
"That was a well-played game from our point of view, and we just need some saves to win the game in a game like tonight," the coach said.
Driedger, 25, was the Ottawa Senators' third-round pick in 2012. He's spent the opening portion of the 2019-20 season with the Springfield Thunderbirds, Florida's AHL affiliate, posting a 6-8 record and a .938 save percentage in 14 contests.
Marchand appeared to be shaken up after a collision with Rangers blue-liner Jacob Trouba in the dying seconds of the second period. He returned for the third, but the spotters took him off in the final frame.
"That's embarrassing," Marchand told reporters postgame, including Conor Ryan of the Boston Sports Journal. "They had 30 minutes, 20 minutes to sit there and view the tape and call that in, but they made me come out in a 2-1 game as we're starting to get momentum.
"The guy up there is busy eating pizza and cheeseburgers and can't watch the game. Maybe next time he'll pull his head out of his butt and watch the game."
Here's a look at the play:
Marchand was ultimately cleared and wound up returning to the contest. Friday's affair marked only the fifth time in 26 games this season Marchand has been held off the scoresheet.
Hours after the game, Marchand took to Twitter to apologize.
The Bruins won the game 3-2 in overtime on a goal from David Krejci.