After practice on Friday, Sheldon Keefe discussed the loss of Zach Bogosian for more than a month, the plan without him on defense, whether Timothy Liljegren will receive an opportunity, and Adam Brooks’ emergence on the fourth line over the past week.
Practice Lines – April 23
April 23 @MapleLeafs practice lineup in Winnipeg:
— Leafs PR (@LeafsPR) April 23, 2021
What’s the latest status on Zach Bogosian?
Keefe: He had an MRI yesterday on a shoulder injury which revealed that he will have to miss a minimum of four weeks here. His rehab process begins. We will look to try to get him to full health as soon as we can.
What does losing him for that length of time mean to you, and what is the plan to replace him? Will it be a rotation? Will Travis Dermott be on the right side?
Keefe: Zach has played very well for us this season. He has really come in and delivered on what we wanted him to provide in terms of stability on our third pair, penalty kill minutes, a little bit of a different look and feel to our defense, and of course, his experience having won a Stanley Cup last season and been a part of that in Tampa.
You are going to feel that absence. I know he and the medical team are going to do everything that they can to get him back up and running as soon as possible. We have remained incredibly healthy on defense all season long with the exception of Sandin, who got hurt down with the Marlies. That did have an impact on our group and all of that, but this does now provide him more of an opportunity to play down the stretch.
We will get a look at Dermott on the right side. We have added Ben Hutton for situations such as this. We still have others. Timothy Liljegren hasn’t had an opportunity to play yet. Martin Marincin is a guy who, in these types of situations, has come in and played very well for us. We have an abundance of depth that we feel pretty good about here.
Just like every other injury we have had throughout the season — whether we have played a little bit without Muzzin, Matthews here and there, our goaltending situation and the injuries there — our team has found a way to press on. This will be no different.
Is there something Timothy Liljegren has shown you in practice that you really like?
Keefe: Liljegren, to me, just looks like he is older and more confident — no different than Sandin, who hasn’t played much hockey at all over the last year and a half, and yet he comes in and looks confident and stronger. Just because he is such a young guy, when 18 months pass by, you see a big difference. Liljegren is very much the same.
I think Liljegren had that jump last season in my time with the Marlies. If you look back to the playoff run we had there two seasons ago and then last season, throughout that period of time, Liljegren — who is older than Sandin — had his jump. You saw a noticeable difference in his game physically, and how much stronger he was on the ice. When a period of time like that passes for a young player, it can make a big difference.
We like a lot about Timothy and his development. His situation is not as clear given that we have some salary cap issues and things like that which, at different times, have made it hard to get him in and get him involved. That doesn’t necessarily say or mean we don’t believe in him as a player.
We will have to look at it and see if there an opportunity to get him involved down the stretch, but we are running out of games here. You have roster considerations and you also have the fact that you are trying to make sure your group is ready to go when the playoffs begin. You have to manage all of these types of things.
Again, in practice today, Lily looks good and confident. You can tell he is maturing.
Wayne Simmonds was saying he got physical last night because he was tired of the Jets jumping on the goalie and it not being called. Is that why you brought in someone like Wayne, and is it an element you were missing maybe last summer?
Keefe: We certainly want to be more competitive as a team. I don’t think it is necessarily anything that happens after the whistle. It is more what happens when the puck is in play.
What are you describing there are things that happen in the game. Players like Simmer take care of those kinds of things. That is all part of it.
How much more physical do you feel the team is this year, and in what ways is that maybe helping the group?
Keefe: I still feel like we need to be more physical, but when I say that, you are probably thinking of some of the non-sense that happens after the whistles. I am not concerned about that. I am talking about being physical on the puck, physical on defense — those are the things I am looking for. We have areas to grow there still.
At times, we have done it very well as a team, but we are looking to be better in that regard. That is not just players like Simmonds, Foligno, Bogosian, Muzzin. With everybody on our team, we are looking to do a better job of being physical in the things that really matter in the game — protecting the puck, winning the puck, creating space for yourself, defending your net, defending space, creating space. That is the physicality we really need.
You talked about how well the team locked it down in the third period after 10 goals against in the third period during the losing streak. How good was it to have third period where you did a better job of locking it down?
Keefe: I thought we did a really good job. It was tough to give up the goal at the end of the second period. We didn’t like that at all. It put us in an even tougher spot going into the third. I thought the guys really did a nice job. I thought Jack Campbell, probably most importantly, was really solid for us there. We had some break downs, and he was excellent.
On the breakaway, they got in behind us the one time, the penalty kill, the 6-on-5 situation — our goalie was our best guy in those times, and that is a huge part in keeping the puck out of the net in the third period, for sure.
Adam Brooks couldn’t get much of a better on-the-job training situation than what he has with Spezza and Thornton. That is very unique. What have you seen from him as far as being able to learn from two guys with over 40 years of combined experience?
Keefe: Playing with those guys, I think they give you a lot of confidence. Both Thornton and Spezza talk constantly — on the ice, on the bench, in the dressing room. That helps young players with their confidence.
But we can’t take anything away from Adam here with his own development and his own maturity, like we just talked about it with Liljegren. I have more history with Broosky because of my time with the Marlies. He came in as a first-year guy trying to find his way in the American league, and he had a really slow start trying to get comfortable. By the time that season heats up and we are into our Calder Cup run, he was just an integral part of our team.
I was thinking about it the other day. We had a fourth-line in that Calder Cup run with Brooksy in the middle with Trevor Moore and Mason Marchment. All three players are playing in the NHL right now, which speaks to the depth we had on that team and the development of those young players.
To see Brooksy stay with it here… He has been working for his chance, he had a little bit of a chance last season, and I thought he had a really good camp with us this year, but the opportunity just didn’t really work out for him in terms of the numbers and the roster restrictions and the salary cap — all of these different things we are sorting through. He stayed with it, and he is getting his chance here.
He has been incredible. He has played well in every game that he has played in the NHL going back to last season. I thought last night was his best. He made plays on offense when he had the puck. He skated with confidence. He competed defensively. He was in really good spots. I trusted him and his line to really play against anybody because of how they were playing. Against a team like Winnipeg, to have that faith is significant. It really made me and my coaching staff feel good about his play.
Playing with those veteran guys helps, and those veteran people make our team better, but don’t take anything away from Brooksy. He stuck with it. It has been impressive how he has stepped in here at this time of year and taken advantage of his chance.