After practice on Tuesday, head coach Sheldon Keefe discussed keeping Auston Matthews – Mitch Marner and John Tavares – William Nylander together in practice, calling up Joey Anderson and inserting him into the lineup over Zach Aston-Reese, and sticking with the adjusted defense pairings from the game against the Islanders.
Practice Lines – January 24
#Leafs lines at practice Jan. 24/23
Extra: Aston-Reese, Simmonds
— David Alter (@dalter) January 24, 2023
Why was now the time to stick with the reunited Matthews-Marner and Tavares-Nylander?
Keefe: I just thought the way that both lines responded to the change yesterday just tells me it is a good time to go back to that mix. We have been looking at it a little bit. It was the Boston game last week or however long ago it was now. We didn’t feel like we needed to stick with it at that point, but I saw myself going back to it.
The way the guys responded yesterday tells me it is a good time to stay with it.
Is it an example of things sometimes turning stale?
Keefe: It is not about that for me. The chemistry between the players, to me, is fine no matter what you do. It is more about how the individual players are playing and monitoring it that way.
I don’t look at it as a stale type of thing. It is just that sometimes you need to change the chemistry a little bit and get a little spark. The season is long.
I just think it is important to maintain the chemistry and looks both ways. Last season, there were times when Matthews and Marner were really rolling. We changed it up periodically.
It is important that we continue with that and keep the players on their toes that way.
What potential do you see from the Nylander and Tavares combination now that it is back together? It feels like both players are in a different place this year.
Keefe: That is just it. That is what I am saying. Sometimes, the lines don’t work and you tend to look at the line itself, but we are talking about elite players. When they are playing well, it doesn’t matter who their linemates are. They are going to find ways to produce and make an impact on the game.
Certainly, with the way Will is playing now and the consistency he is bringing, you can see last night as an example where he doesn’t have a good first period, but then he is able to fix it and come out with a great second period. John was just the same.
That is a really good sign and a very healthy thing for them and our team. It is something that — as I have said to them a little bit — is the difference. In previous years, maybe it takes two, three, four, or five games to fix that and get it back going. This season, both of them — and certainly Willy, in particular — have been able to make that adjustment and just get going quickly.
What is the thinking with swapping in Joey Anderson for Zach Aston-Reese?
Keefe: We just think Joey did a good job when he was there. The roster, the lineup, and all of those kinds of things are fluid and they change. We thought he did a good job here.
I can’t remember what the specific circumstances were when we sent him back or what the situation was, but we just like him as a player. It gives us a right shot down in the bottom six. I like that part of it.
For Reeser, his game has been a little inconsistent for me. It keeps those guys on their toes as well. Whether it is McMann coming in — which has pushed a guy like Dryden Hunt and Aston-Reese — or now Holmberg coming back, those guys are in competition for their spots.
Whether it is Kampf, Engvall, or Kerfoot — just the same. You have some guys coming in here that are pushing and showing they can help us. I think it keeps that group honest as well.
Is some of it to do with getting McMann back with Kampf and Engvall?
Keefe: I did like [McMann] on that line. To be honest, though, having Kerfoot with Holmberg and Anderson, for me, is just about getting that group a little more experience. It is just as simple as that. I would probably be less willing to do so if I didn’t feel good about what McMann has brought in that position. It goes hand in hand.
In terms of why it is set up the way it is, it is more so that I like Kerfoot’s experience with Holmberg and Anderson.
What did you think of the shuffle on defense last night?
Keefe: Similar to what was happening on forward, we needed to shake it up. We are happy with that mix. Holl has done a good job with Rielly. Liljegren has certainly done a very good job with Giordano.
Dean [Chynoweth] felt that was a necessary adjustment. We wanted to stay with it. As we have seen at this time when we have had guys out with injuries and such, we move things around quite a bit within each game. For today in practice, we just stayed with what we had yesterday.