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

After practice on Monday, head coach Sheldon Keefe discussed Matt Murray’s return in Pittsburgh tomorrow night, the injury to TJ Brodie, the latest news on Jake Muzzin, Pontus Holmberg re-entering the lineup, and the recall of Mac Hollowell as an extra on defense.

Practice Lines – November 14

How are you absorbing the news on Jake Muzzin’s long-term absence, not just as a player but as a person as well?

Keefe: It is obviously not fresh and new to me. It is something we have come to terms with in terms of his situation and feeling for him with how much of a competitor he is and how badly he wants to be out on the ice helping the team. He is doing all that he can to still be a part of our team and help us with his experience and perspective.

It is a different perspective now watching from afar during games, but he is still connected and here in our facility every day. At the same time, with the competitor that he is — despite it being a long road ahead for him — I still see him in the gym every day pushing himself and doing all that he can.

All of that said, it is a tough loss for us. He is a very important player for many reasons. I still remain confident that we can have other guys step up and fill his shoes as best as possible, although they are different and we have different types of players.  He is a very unique guy on our team.

We have been managing well. I expect we will continue to.

Is there a timeline for TJ Brodie?

Keefe: He is on the IR, so it is going to be a minimum of a week there. In terms of an exact timeline, we will have to see. His injury appears to be somewhat similar in nature to what John Tavares went through in camp.

It will just be a matter of managing it and just kind of seeing where he is after a week’s time to get him comfortable and take it from there.

What is the biggest challenge with Brodie out given he does so much for the team?

Keefe: It is the stability that he brings not just in how he plays but also in how he makes others better around him. That is the biggest piece for sure. I was really happy with how we managed it the other night.

Jordie Benn came in and played his first game for us, we were on a back-to-back, and we had to kill some penalties late in the game with the game on the line. It was really encouraging to see how the guys responded to that. We are obviously going to need more of it.

Who will start in goal tomorrow?

Keefe: Matt Murray. That is the plan. He has been preparing for that. I haven’t spoken to anybody since practice ended, but based on what I observed in practice, he very much looks ready to go.

How encouraged you by getting him back?

Keefe: Very encouraged. First of all, Erik Källgren did a good job for us as far as I am concerned. We feel good about that. He gave us a chance to win when he was in the net. But Matt Murray is a big part of our team.

To have him back healthy and to give him an opportunity to get back in the net and get rolling is important for us. It is really good to see that he has come back on the early side of his timeline. It was kind of a 4-6 week type of deal. He put in a lot of hard work. The medical team took care of him and pushed him hard. He looks very much ready.

We have given him a few extra days here and the addition of this practice to add to his workload so that he is all the more prepared. We are making sure that he is 100%. When I say 100%, there is the physical part of it with the injury, and then there is getting in the net, stopping pucks, getting into your routine, and feeling confident that you can go and perform at your best.

How is Ilya Samsonov doing? He was back on the ice, which has to be encouraging.

Keefe: I haven’t had an update since we left the practice, but the amount of work he did today tells me he is feeling really good. I know they were going to start off the day feeling it out and making sure they’re not progressing too quickly, but we expected him to take a step today from what he has been doing on the ice. He looked like he did that and then some.

It is very encouraging and great to see both guys out on the ice there working together.

Can you speak to the decision to bring Mac Hollowell up? Do you anticipate maybe giving him his NHL debut at some point?

Keefe: First of all, we like the player. He has come up here a bunch of times here and hasn’t gone in. He has been playing very well with the Marlies. They have some injuries there as well with both Mete and Král. He is next man up.

In terms of him getting in, there are no plans for that at this point. We like the group that we have going tomorrow, but every day is a new day.

What was the thinking with the lineup changes, with Mitch Marner and Auston Matthews staying apart, and Pontus Holmberg joining the third line?

Keefe: We think it makes sense to continue with it for a little bit here. It’s a combination of that and keeping some of the other lines looking similar, and bringing Holmberg in gives us a natural center in that line as well. We intended to give him more of an opportunity than he got the first time around. He is somebody that we like and we want to give more of an opportunity to.