Sheldon Keefe, Toronto Maple Leafs practice
Sheldon Keefe, Toronto Maple Leafs practice

After practice on Wednesday, head coach Sheldon Keefe discussed his team’s lack of 5v5 offense so far, the status of injured players Kyle Clifford, Jake Muzzin, and Matt Murray, and his new line combinations in practice.

Practice Lines – October 26

Has there been any clarity or timeline on Jake Muzzin?

Keefe: No clarity or timeline. The move from regular IR to LTI is really not a factor in anything. Nothing has changed. It is the same situation. That is just more of a roster management type of thing. I don’t even know what is happening there.

I know he hasn’t had the follow-up he was supposed to have. Nothing has changed on that front.

Is there any update on Matt Murray?

Keefe: Nothing other than he is continuing to progress with no setbacks. Obviously, he is not on the trip with us here, but I talked him before I left. The reports are he was progressing well.

What happened with Kyle Clifford?

Keefe: Cliff has a shoulder injury. He had an MRI here this morning. We haven’t gotten the results back on it yet. He is going to miss some time, obviously. The extent of it, we are not quite sure. It doesn’t appear to be anything too serious at this point. He is going to be out for a little while.

Do you anticipate getting Filip Král into the lineup on this trip?

Keefe: We will see. Obviously, it was important for us to have an additional defenseman here so we have the ability to make that change if we want to. Král is a guy that we like. He had a good camp for us. It is two years in a row that he has had a good camp for us. He never got in last season.

Because of the injuries we have on defense right now, it has increased opportunity for him to come in here and experience this. We have a busy schedule in California, so there could be opportunity there for him. We are just going to take it a day at a time and see how our team performs.

What is the thinking behind the line changes we saw today?

Keefe: We haven’t been scoring, and in addition to scoring, controlling the play we want to — in particular from our bottom six. We are looking to get a bit of a different look and balance there. Bunting’s presence on that line presents us with some additional opportunities at offense, especially if you put Malgin in there as well.  We are looking to get a little bit more from that group that way.

At the same time, I wanted to give Kerfoot a look on the wing. It accomplished a little bit of both of those things and keeps the Tavares line intact. I wanted to get Engvall back with Kampf as well. I am just really looking to accomplish those things. I think it is a good balance for us.

Is there a reason why David Kampf and Pierre Engvall worked so well together last year?

Keefe: I think both have the ability to skate the puck down the ice and also track and be good on defense. We are looking for that to continue. With Pierre, we are trying to get a little more going offensively this season with that line and Järnkrok. It hasn’t really connected for us that way. We are going back to this look.

Those guys played good minutes together and tough minutes for us at key times last season. We need to get more out of Pierre. Him coming back into the lineup the other night did not go as I expected it to. He has to find another level here. At the same time, I have to help him find that groove.

Why do you think it has been difficult to generate offense? Is it some unluckiness? 

Keefe: It is part of that. If you go back through each of the games, I think there are a number of opportunities. Normally, those pucks would go in, particularly with the calibre of players shooting them. It hasn’t gone in. With that said, I think we can still generate more as a group.

Part of it, too, could just be as simple as the fact that we have really two lines that have been generating the chances for us. We need to get a little bit more from lines three and four in terms of controlling play, generating their own chances, and stressing the opposition a little bit more. That is part of it — we want to see if we can do a better job of that and if that can impact the team overall.

Matthews’ line and Tavares’ line have done a pretty good job of generating enough chances to score. We think they can be even more dominant, but they have done a pretty good job. We need to be more consistent throughout the lineup.

How can the Matthews line be more dominant?

Keefe: I think it is just consistently, shift over shift, having the attack mindset — not getting comfortable with the puck but just really taking on the defense and challenging. I think there are some team effects in there that might be able to benefit them if we can get a little more traction line after line.

That is how envisioned our team looking this year. It hasn’t come together that way here quite yet. If we get there, I think there are benefits throughout the lineup that the top guys can take from that.

Other than that, stay with it, stay positive, and stay hungry. No concerns on that end.

With the fourth line, is the thinking to keep more of the extra players involved?

Keefe: That is part of it. We have talked about having the flexibility of keeping the competition going. At the same time as we are talking about here, I don’t think anyone has really grabbed a hold of it here yet.

Simmonds and Clifford had a good presence that they brought to the Winnipeg game, but it wasn’t the same in Vegas. That in and of itself allows us to change some things. We are still looking for things to really come together. It hasn’t happened here yet.

When you talk about players seizing opportunities, does Nick Robertson appear to have done that for you?

Keefe: Yeah, he has. What is really encouraging: Offensively, he plays the first game, he scores two goals, and there is a lot of hype around that — deservedly so — but the offense hasn’t been there in the games we have played since. He is still doing a lot of the little things well around the rink. That is what is important.

As we are seeing with some of our top guys even, when you are not scoring, you still need to be a productive player having a positive impact on the game. He is doing that.