After practice on Wednesday, head coach Sheldon Keefe discussed the return of Ryan O’Reilly to the lineup for tomorrow’s game in Boston, playing ROR at 3C, uniting Mitch Marner with John Tavares, and planning for his playoff lineup.
Practice Lines – April 5
Leafs lines at practice
Bunting – Matthews – Jarnkrok
Nylander – Tavares – Marner
Kerfoot – O’Reilly – Acciari
Aston-Reese – Kampf – Lafferty
McCabe – Brodie
Giordano – Holl
Rielly – Schenn
Gustafsson – Liljegren
— Mark Masters (@markhmasters) April 5, 2023
What was the thinking behind putting Ryan O’Reilly in the spot between Noel Acciari and Alex Kerfoot?
Keefe: We just wanted to get him in at center, which is the first thing. There is that. I just like the other lines the way they have been, so it is a natural fit.
With O’Reilly in that spot there, he is going to have a lot of defensive utility playing with players that can defend really well. It makes the line better. I just think there are really good elements there.
We have gotten a lot out of the Kampf line. I think there is another line now that I believe will be able to add to the depth of our team in terms of matchups that we can just roll over the boards, play fast, and make it tough on the opposition.
With our opponent tomorrow, we are going to certainly need that type of depth.
What is your sense of the impact O’Reilly makes beyond the game on the ice when he is back in the lineup?
Keefe: He has that presence about him. He is super confident in who he is and what he has accomplished and been through. He knows he needs to play.
He doesn’t take anything too seriously. He just goes with the flow. He lets things flow off his back. And yet he is extremely focused and extremely committed.
That is such a delicate balance that very few players can have and master. I certainly believe he has done that.
What does a matchup against Boston mean to the team at this stage in the season?
Keefe: In terms of what it means, I don’t think you can get too worked up about that.
It is nice to have a game like this at this stage of the schedule that is going to demand the best out of you. They are going to challenge you. It is hard to see the big picture of what it might mean, but any time you play Boston, you are in for a tough night.
That is why they have been one of the best teams in the history of the league — because of the level of consistency they bring to every game. You have to be at your best or you are going to be in real tough.
As the group sits now with the lineup, is this what you’re envisioning for game one of the playoffs or is there more to be decided in the final few games?
Keefe: If you look at how we have played over the last few weeks, the framework is in place for a lot of what you are seeing tomorrow night. Certainly, we have had an eye toward that.
In terms of how it shakes out between who plays on defense, and if we have six or seven of them, and how the forwards shake out with O’Reilly back in… We haven’t had [ROR] play much at all where he has been in that third center spot. We will see how that shakes out.
We will make decisions from there. We will see where everyone’s game is at. We will see where everyone’s health is at. We have been building toward something like this. It is not too far away.
As a D pair, there is a focus, but there are pairs on forward as well. Whether it is one player here or there, there are some subtle adjustments that can change our look as well. I like how it is set up that way.
What does Mitch Marner bring to that line with John Tavares at five-on-five?
Keefe: He brings a lot to it, obviously. I thought that line was terrific watching it back last night. They were really good. They didn’t get anything to go into the net, but they had the puck the entire game and weren’t in our end very much at all, which is what you are looking to see. They will be challenged even greater tomorrow night.
Whether it is Marner moving around or O’Reilly moving around, I can make one or two very subtle changes and still have the framework the same but give us a little more punch here and there.
Is it about the option to go either way with loading the top six or spreading it out?
Keefe: Exactly. I think that is important. We have to adjust to that, whether it is certain situations in a game or if the opponent is presenting something that you want to counter. I think we need to be set up that way.
We have tried to keep the Kampf line intact for a while now. Matthews and Jarnkrok’s chemistry is something that we tried and has gone really well. We think that has opened up some doors for us.
Whether it is Matthews and Bunting or JT and Willy, we have some real pairs there. The structure of our lineup is in place. It is just a matter of moving one or two things around here and there depending on the situation.
Have you seen enough of O’Reilly with different combinations to have a solid comfort level as to where he fits?
Keefe: I am comfortable. What I have learned is that wherever I have put him, he has done really well — center or wing.
He hasn’t spent much time with Matthews, but that was something I was wanting to work through. I actually started to give him a couple of shifts there in Vancouver. They were two very dominant shifts. It looked like it was going to flip the game for us in Vancouver, and then he got hurt.
That was something we wanted to look at there. Maybe we will look at it again.
His flexibility and versatility… Whatever you need, he has moved around and played different positions and roles. He can be a facilitator, make plays, and keep the puck moving. He has great defensive utility at the same time. He is a guy you want to get a lot out of.
What Auston Mathews is playing with Calle Jarnkrok and Michael Bunting instead of Mitch Marner or William Nylander, how does it change the dynamic for him?
Keefe: I think he is going to have the puck a lot more. He is going to drive things a lot more himself. I thought he did a really good job of that last night.
It is going to be on the wingers to do a little more work to get him the puck, earn pucks back, and stay involved and stay engaged.
Last night is a difficult game to really assess in terms of what any of the lines might look like. Tomorrow will give us a better indication of what it looks like against an elite opponent with great depth. There are not going to be very many easy matchups.
I believe Auston has the ability to do that, but as we have talked about here, it is an easy switch to move things around there if we need to.
How much does John Tavares’ dry spell at five-on-five factor into where everyone else fits in?
Keefe: It is part of it. We want to see what Mitch’s presence there can do. Mitch and John have done really well together.
I am not as focused on John’s five-on-five production in terms of offense necessarily. I believe it will come. John has had a lot of these types of dry spells if you want to call it that. He has continued to be very productive on the power play, which is great.
To me, he has been really focused on his defensive play. He and his line had a real tough night against Detroit, but take that one out, and I think he has done a really nice job defensively. That, to me, is equally as important — making sure that is there.
It hasn’t always been the case. He has really made some adjustments over the last few seasons to be a much better defensive player. We certainly know he has the ability to score. I believe that he will.
He is a very streaky guy. A lot of scorers are. There is a reason why there aren’t many 80-goal scorers out there. If one or two go in, the confidence starts to come, and the pucks start to fall your way.
I am most concerned with his consistency shift-to-shift, having good habits, setting our team up for success, and making sure that is in place. I think he has done a good job of adhering to that.
Have you ever seen a team as consistent as the Bruins have been from start to finish?
Keefe: I don’t know if I have. It has just been impressive to watch and see the way that the players have just done it night in and night out. The coaches have kept things moving and kept guys on board there.
It has been really impressive. They could host the NHL Awards in their building this year. To me, they should be cleaning up. It has been so impressive what they have been able to do. To be so far away from the pack is impressive.