After practice on Thursday, head coach Sheldon Keefe discussed the performance of his bottom-six lines, the TJ Brodie-Justin Holl pairing, Mitch Marner turning a corner against Vegas on Tuesday, and Pierre Engvall at center vs. the wing.
Practice Lines – November 10
Lines at Leafs practice
Kerfoot – Matthews – Marner
Robertson – Tavares – Nylander
Aston-Reese – Kampf – Malgin
Bunting – Engvall – Jarnkrok
Clifford (🛑), Simmonds
Rielly – Liljegren
Brodie – Holl
Giordano – Sandin
— Mark Masters (@markhmasters) November 10, 2022
Will it be Erik Källgren tomorrow in net, and what is the latest on Matt Murray?
Keefe: It will be Källgren. I haven’t gotten an update on Matt Murray yet. He seemed like he’s been on the ice forever. I haven’t gotten much from how his day went or how he is feeling — not that we were going to make the call today anyhow. It is a day-to-day thing.
Kallgren will go tomorrow. We are not making any sort of decision for Saturday yet. It seemed like it was another good day for him. He stayed on the ice and got some extra work in even. All of that is positive.
As we talked about yesterday, he and the medical team will make the appropriate decision. He is clearly day-to-day at this point. His return is around the corner for sure. As to when the exact day is, we will make that decision when the time comes.
You mentioned the second period of the Vegas game was the best Mitch Marner has played all season. He made the two eye-popping plays, but is there anything else that makes it the best he’s played this year?
Keefe: You can just kind of feel it. There were a couple of moments prior to his goal — a couple of shifts previous to that — where he came flying through the neutral zone, made a play, and generated a shot toward the net. He just started to look like Mitch at his best.
He has another gear offensively in terms of his feet moving but also in terms of how his feet, hands, and brain work together. They seemed to be in sync in that moment. That continued through the game.
I thought it made a huge difference in the turn of the game for us in terms of the time spent in the offensive zone and us being dangerous in the offensive zone. That is what he is capable of doing.
For whatever reason, it has taken some time to get there, but it was certainly nice to see. The hope is that it is just going to continue, and he will build momentum from there. That has been the case for him in previous seasons. We have confidence that it will continue.
Why has the David Kampf-centered line been so effective in your mind?
Keefe: Kampf — we know very well from his time with us last season — is very reliable and consistent in his play. Aston-Reese has shown throughout his career to be very similar in that sense. The more that those guys have played together, they are learning how to work well together and are building the chemistry it takes to be the type of line that can play against really hard competition with tough defensive-zone starts and still spend time on the offensive side of the red line.
Malgin’s inclusion in the group, as we have talked about, has brought another layer or level of skill that has kept them on offense even more and kept the puck away from good players. With the way the three of them have worked together, there is some chemistry coming together, and that is what you get.
That is what we had envisioned for that line. We were very familiar with how we utilized Kampf last season. We expected it to be similar this season. It has taken a little bit of time to find the right mix.
Right now, we are happy with Malgin there. The reality is that if Malgin keeps playing the way that he has, he is probably going to elevate in the lineup, but at the same time, I am hesitant to do it because it is working so well in that role.
Was starting the Kampf line for periods a reward for what they accomplished against Carolina, or a way to make sure they get minutes in before the penalties take over?
Keefe: It is partially that they were as good of a line as we had the night before. Also, Vegas started their fourth line as well. You are kind of getting your matchup right away. All of those things are adding up to that being what makes sense.
Has there been a challenge for the other bottom-six line to find some consistency and chemistry?
Keefe: Yeah, that is fair to say. As you can tell from the number of players that have played there — and the positions have been different, with different people at center — it is a work in progress for me and for our team to find that right mix. That is something we will continue to work towards.
I have liked Pierre in the middle. I know that his preference is still to be on the wing, but we need him in the middle right now. I have liked what he’s brought there for us.
With Jarnkrok — like Aston-Reese, Malgin, and these guys that are new — we are trying to find the right spot for them. Jarny, for me, has played well, and yet hasn’t seemed to have found real chemistry with any sort of line. He hasn’t gotten into any real rhythm.
Part of that is perhaps me moving him around. Part of it is just maybe him being new and finding his game. And yet, inside all of that, when I watch him, I like a lot of the things that he is doing. He has scored some great goals for us and produced well. He is responsible defensively and has done a good job on the penalty kill.
There are little things that he is bringing despite the fact that he still has more. Maybe, when we get that line figured out, that will be helpful.
What do you like about Pierre Engvall at center?
Keefe: Just the speed that he has and the size. He is not an easy guy to move around. When he gets playing down below the dots in the offensive zone, if you are the opposition in the offensive zone, he is a hard guy to get through and to move around. He gets in the way. When he gets the puck, he does a really good job of skating it out of the zone and making a play on it.
Those are the things that he brings there. You lose some of what he brings on the wing where he can really get ahead of the play and really push the pace offensively when he gets ahead of it and is F1 on the forecheck. He can get on top of the puck first.
We need him in the middle right now, and I like what I have seen from that. I suspect that he will be a guy that we continue to move around and will spend time with the Kampf line as well. As we are trying to find the right mix with the top three lines at this point, that is the mix we are going to stay with for a little bit.
Are you seeing the desired results so far with TJ Brodie and Justin Holl together?
Keefe: We have, yeah. I think Justin Holl’s game has really stabilized since being put with Brodie. [Brodie] has that ability, it seems, to really help his partner. Usually, we spend less time on the defensive side of the red line. They kill plays quicker. He very rarely puts his partner in bad spots. If his partner puts TJ in a bad spot, he does a good job of cleaning it up.
That has really helped there. It has been important for us as we look to the other pairs. Rielly-Liljegren is a new pair for us, and we have tried to give that some time here. We have liked that as well. We think as they get more comfortable playing together, it can continue to improve. It seems like whoever has played with Gio has done a pretty good job for us.
It is not ideal for us to have Brodie playing on the left side because he is the most comfortable left-hander playing on the right, but I think this balance makes sense for us at the time being.
Do you continue to marvel at Sidney Crosby now at age 35, continuing to make adjustments to his game and making an impact?
Keefe: I don’t know him that well, but from the outside, you see how he trains, how he prepares, how serious he takes his craft, the ability that he has, and how competitive he is on the ice. All of those things add up to being a guy who seems like he could play forever and still be productive.
He certainly presents a lot of challenges. We are going to see a lot of him for the rest of the month.