After practice on Tuesday, Sheldon Keefe discussed starting Mark Giordano on a pairing with Timothy Liljegren, the message to Petr Mrazek after he cleared waivers, and the role for Giordano and Colin Blackwell on the second power-play unit.
Practice Lines – March 22
#Leafs lines at practice skate Mar. 22/22
Absent: Kase, Sandin (IR)
— David Alter (@dalter) March 22, 2022
What are your first impressions of the new guys?
Keefe: Both are excited to be here. I liked what I saw from them on the ice. You know the players well, but when you get the players on the ice with our guys, you develop even greater respect for them. When you see them live and in our drills and in our system — all of those kinds of things — that was really good. Most importantly, they just seemed like they fit in really well with the guys in their interactions.
What was the thought process behind putting Mark Giordano in with Timothy Liljegren?
Keefe: We just looked at it and thought that keeping things lefty-righty made a lot of sense to us. At the same time, it maintains pairs that have been together in Brodie-Holl and Rielly-Lyubushkin. We just thought it made sense that way.
When Muzz returns, we will probably get a different look at that time. For right now, we think thinks makes a lot of sense for us to do it this way.
How do you think the new guys will help with the second power-play unit?
Keefe: Obviously, Giordano is a veteran guy who has played the power play for a long time and had success with it. Sandin has done a good job for us, but a veteran like Gio to pair with a veteran like Spezz on that unit — there are a lot of positives in that.
In Blackwell’s case, he hasn’t been on the power play much at all in this season in Seattle, but he did play a fair bit in New York last year. We looked at that. He played that position in the bumper on the inside there. Kase, as a right shot, had been playing in that spot. We liked what we saw with him in New York, and with Kase being out, we just thought it made a lot of sense to give him that opportunity there.
Do you imagine you might revisit Giordano-Brodie given how effective they were in Calgary?
Keefe: I would say that we definitely would see that at some point for sure. Obviously, Rielly and Brodie has been very good for us as well. We don’t want to lose sight of that dynamic and what that does for our group.
Like I said yesterday, in Giordano’s case, the thing I like the most is that it gives us options. Probably even more important than the options, it allows for greater distribution of minutes — perhaps a better or more efficient distribution of minutes — to share some of the workload throughout our group with having another reliable veteran player who can play in all situations.
However it shapes out, that will be determined based on what we see, what we watch, and how the chemistry is. I think it is important for us to try different things and make sure we don’t attach to one thing.
We will start this way here. When Muzzin comes back, that will force us to shift things around. I like Rielly-Brodie. We know that works well for us. We know that Giordano-Brodie has worked well in the past. We will want to get a look at that in blue and white.
Mark Giordano did not seem to be flummoxed or asking a lot of questions in his new environment. What were your initial impressions of him?
Keefe: He is a pro. He is not fazed by any of this. He is very comfortable with who he is, what he has done in the league, and what he brings to our team. I talked to him a few times a few times on the ice and off the ice.
I observed him a lot. It was like it was another day at the office for him. That is really what you are looking for when you bring in an established veteran player: That they look comfortable right away and that they belong.
I thought the same with Blackwell, too — just very comfortable and confident. I think both guys will be a good fit. I am not worried about their personality or maturity level or anything like that. Both guys are going to fit in really nicely.
Did your time seeing him with Rochester in the AHL play into your thinking at all knowing it is a player you are a little bit familiar with?
Keefe: Obviously, Kyle and management and scouts made the decision to get him included in the deal. Both Kyle and I are familiar with him because of his time in Rochester. That is when we first got to know him well. It is a big rival of ours in Roch. We saw a lot of him and liked him. His work ethic, how he moves his feet, and how he competes jumps out to you right away. You can’t help but notice that.
I have always had a lot of respect for him as a player. I kind of followed him along the way from there. As Kyle mentioned yesterday, we tried to get him in the past through free agency. Having him as part of this deal is good for us because we do like the player, but also, it fits a lot of needs for us.
He is a very versatile guy. He can play all three forward positions. He can take faceoffs. It is another right-handed shot faceoff option for us. We like a lot of that. You have seen how we have used Kerfoot this season and moved him around with his versatility and Engvall’s versatility. To have another guy like that is very good for us.
What is Ondrej Kase’s status?
Keefe: We are just continuing to monitor him. He is in the medical team’s hands. I am sure that they are cautious with him and are making certain, before he gets going again, that he is feeling like himself and that they are taking the appropriate time to make sure that’s the case — with a guy like him, in particular, obviously.
Petr Mrazek seemed to take the waiver situation fairly well and is confident in his own abilities. What is your take on how he is handling everything?
Keefe: I think he has handled it well. I met with him today just to see where he was at and also give him my thoughts of where I think he is at and what it is we need from him going forward here. I think he is handling it well.
If anything, my message to him is that it should be a full reset here now. It is a bit of a shock to a player — an established NHL player — to go on waivers. That in itself is a shock. When you clear waivers, it should be even more of a shock that you have not been nearly good enough.
It is an opportunity for him to really get to work here now. It is real, and we need him to be better. We believe he is a much better goalie and he has proven that in his time in the NHL. That is why we went out and signed him this summer. That is why he got the deal that he got — he earned that and was worthy of it because of his time in the NHL.
We need him to get to work and get back to that. That was really my message to him: He is capable of playing much better. We do believe in him. It is time for him to really get to work and deliver on it.
What are you going with between him and Erik Kallgren tomorrow night?
Keefe: We haven’t decided on that. That was part of my message for Petr. I was going to meet with him today. We are going to let him get his work in practice and kind of revisit it and see where he is at.
He has been through quite a bit in the last couple of days. You can imagine what that would be like for him emotionally. I like what I saw from him in practice today. We will look at it and revisit it.
At the same time, we have a guy in Kallgren who has done a good job for us. He came in at at time when we needed saves and we needed our goalie to give us confidence. He has done that for us. We can’t overlook that. We have come to really believe in his ability to play for us, too.
It looks like Wayne Simmonds is back in tomorrow night. What is your message to him and what are you looking for?
Keefe: Obviously, he has missed some time here. In the time that he has missed, we have gotten some real good efforts out of that line. With him coming back in, we want to see that continue. We are looking to find some stability on that line — a line that can give us energy, spend time in the offensive zone, and win shifts against the other team’s fourth line, primarily — which is usually the matchup.
That is really it: him coming in and simplifying his game. Forecheck, be physical, be a presence in the game, and generate positive momentum for our team. That is really what we are looking for from that line. With Wayne coming back in, he is going to have to fill that purpose.