After practice on Thursday, Sheldon Keefe discussed the decision to rest Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, and Jack Campbell tomorrow against Boston, the possibility of re-uniting William Nylander and John Tavares on the second line, Alex Kerfoot’s role entering the playoffs, and much more.
Practice Lines – April 28
Note: It was a maintenance day for John Tavares.
Leafs practice lines
Kerfoot – Matthews – Marner
Mikheyev – Nylander – Kase
Engavll – Kampf – Blackwell
Clifford – Spezza – Simmonds
Rielly – Lyubushkin
Muzzin – Brodie
Giordano – Liljegren
Sandin – Holl
— Mark Masters (@markhmasters) April 28, 2022
What have you decided in terms of who is resting tomorrow night?
Keefe: Matthews and Marner both won’t play. Jack Campbell won’t play. Kallgren will go in goal. Other lineup decisions will be made tomorrow. We will make a decision on John and some others. We will see how the lineup looks from there.
When you make those decisions, do you tell the players they are not playing, or is there a discussion with their feedback?
Keefe: I get feedback from the medical and performance teams in terms of how they feel about it. The most important thing is to have a conversation with the players and give them my perspective. I get their perspective on how they are feeling — not so much how they are feeling about the upcoming game but how they are feeling about their game and their need to play one more in order to get ready.
It is really about Monday. That is really it. I had that discussion. The guys feel that they are in a good place. At the same time, in Auston’s situation, he has missed some time already. We continue to monitor and manage that. In Mitch’s case, he has played a lot of hockey for us. Nobody is at 100% at this point in the season. With that being the case, he could definitely benefit from a night off.
Do you treat the final game a bit like the final game of the preseason for anyone on the lineup bubble for the first game of the playoffs?
Keefe: I think the guys are competing for spots with every rep they get, including practice reps. They are competing. We have a sense of where things are and where we will make decisions, but for some of the decisions, the players themselves will make those through their play. Tomorrow night’s game will be an example or an opportunity for us to assess that.
Some of the decisions are made above them in terms of our injury situations and the health of our team. It is just a matter of taking advantage of every rep that you get but also knowing that, as we have shown here, we have used our depth and made lineup changes. Whatever decisions we make for game one, we will assess that after game one and go from there.
Are you leaning towards putting John Tavares and William Nylander back together?
Keefe: Yeah. If John was here at practice today, those guys would have been together. We will see what the lineup looks like tomorrow.
We are looking that way here now. Again, injury situations and what our lineup ultimately looks like might be different come the weekend or come Monday. In terms of the players that are available to us, we have Bunting, Kase, and all of these things that do impact the lineup and some of the decisions I might make.
Do you think the time apart maybe energized them?
Keefe: I do think so in different ways. It gave them different linemates, different looks, and had them playing in different situations. From that sense of it, yeah.
I don’t know exactly how many minutes they played together since they have been apart, but they have played pretty much parts of every game at some point together — and not just on the power play. They haven’t been too apart in that sense.
We will look at it. We will make the decision based on the players we have available and based on who we are playing and what the matchups might look like.
The reason we did a lot of what we did was not just related to John and Will. It was to give us additional options and flexibility. We like that we have that. The players adapted well to that. It gives me confidence that I can make the decisions that I believe are right based on the information that we have and what is available.
You have used Alex Kerfoot on the first line recently. You have used him with John Tavares and William Nylander in the past. Where does he factor into everything?
Keefe: I thought he did a good job in that spot the other night in Bunting’s absence. There are some similarities in their games between Bunting and Kerfoot. He is able to fill into some of those spots for that line. Obviously, when we do that, it does take away from other lines.
That is part of what I felt the other night. When Kerfoot wasn’t in the middle six, I felt it was an issue for us. That is why I felt the need to move Willy up with John for a different look that way.
Kerf is an important player for us. He is one that a lot of players want to play with. We have to be mindful of that. We have to use him appropriately. We have to recognize, with every decision that we make — especially with every injury that we have — that it impacts our depth greatly.
We have to make sure that we manage that well. We need the Matthews and Marner line rolling, but we also need to make sure we have some depth underneath it.
Why do so many guys like playing with Kerfoot?
Keefe: Because he is so consistent, reliable, and versatile in how he plays. He forechecks. He wins the puck back. He can make a play. Defensively, he is responsible. He is very aware of what is happening in the game.
He is just a good guy, too. That is part of it. He is a guy everybody likes to be around. For all of those reasons, he is a guy that everybody wants to play with.
That is part of why you see him moving around. Different lines have a hole for whatever reason — performance or injury — and you need to make a change because of that. Kerf, because of his versatility but also because guys see him as a solution, provides an easy fix in that way.
I went to Auston and Mitch, and in terms of the possibility of Kerfoot filling in there, it was, “Absolutely. Let’s go.” That is a lot of what I get throughout the lineup.
Do you look forward to nailing down the opponent in the next day or so?
Keefe: Yeah, it is never easy when you are at this point in the season here, you know you are starting on Monday night, and you don’t quite know. We are looking at a high probability that it is going to be Tampa, but Boston is right there. We will see what happens tonight and how it might be impacted.
It has been a little bit easier in the sense that we are playing Boston tomorrow night. As a result, we have an eye toward Boston for tomorrow night’s game, and we have played Tampa twice recently. With all of those kinds of things, we feel we are preparing just fine.
It has been a long time since you had a full practice. How did you like how it went and how did you go about deciding what you wanted to focus on?
Keefe: I liked a lot of it. Because we hadn’t practiced in a while, there were a lot of little details offensively that we wanted to hit and make sure those were in place — get the reps, get some flow, and get the guys moving cohesively.
Some of that starts to slip when you are just playing games. Especially as you get tired, you kind of lose those details. You try to affirm them through video and stuff, but getting the reps in practice was important. That was a priority today.
We look at today and then we look at Sunday as our two practice days in preparation for Monday. There are different things we want to accomplish. We kind of planned the framework for two practices and slotted things in that were more appropriate earlier on today. Some of the things will be more appropriate once we know for certain who our opponent might be.
Are you encouraged by what you are hearing about Michael Bunting’s injury situation?
Keefe: I am. It has been very positive. He has gotten his work in. He stayed on for a little extra today. They will continue to work with him. They don’t have any official word about what his plan might be or anything like that, but we are happy that, A) he has remained on the ice, and B) the sessions have been positive.
Will Jack Campbell dress and back up tomorrow?
Keefe: Yes. We still have salary cap situations and things of that nature that we have to abide by. You can only make so many moves and so many decisions. Certainly, in Jack’s case, he will remain the backup.