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

After Wednesday’s practice, Sheldon Keefe discussed rejigging his middle-six forward lines and bottom two pairings on defense ahead of a five-game road trip starting in Florida.

Practice Lines – Oct. 18

Is there any concern that Tyler Bertuzzi will not be available in Florida on Thursday night?

Keefe: Not at this point. I am told he will be available. Today was just a maintenance day to help him be fully ready to go tomorrow. As of now, I am expecting to have him.

What was the thinking behind the two new middle-six forward lines?

Keefe: Going out on the road, I wanted to rejig some things. That was it. I think Knies has a lot more to offer us as well.

The change previously was to have Domi and Jarnkrok on different lines for different reasons. Having them together in terms of how their skill sets can play off of one another, with Jarny’s stabilizing presence defensively, I think makes sense to give it a try going out on the road.

Is it tough for Max Domi to get going if he is only playing for about 12 minutes? Does he need a little more?

Keefe: That is part of it. It is similar to Knies. Knies’ minutes are too low as well.

It is a challenge. A player has to find their game individually. I have to help them along with that. At the same time, you have a lot of guys you are trying to introduce, get going, and get comfortable.

All four of our left-wingers are new. You are trying to find the right mix for everybody, but everybody is responsible for maximizing the minutes they do get. It will settle into place.

As we go out on the road, the rejigging of the lines is about more consistently trying to get guys out there. Special teams always play a role, too, in how it shakes out.

Can Knies’ familiarity with John Tavares help him in that spot?

Keefe: It certainly would help. Knies is still a young guy. He is still learning a lot, but any sort of familarity and comfort that you can have can be helpful.

I think Knies has actually played well. I have just kind of lost him a little bit on that line. He has more to offer us.

Coming out on the road is a chance for him to be more involved with those guys.

What is the balance like between integrating the new guys who are trying to get comfortable while also mixing it up when you are heading out on the road?

Keefe: They are trying to get comfortable and I am trying to get comfortable with them, too, right? I am trying to find out what the right mix is. Sometimes you have to really find your team game before you can start to focus on some of the other things.

It is on me to manage that. We have talked about having new players on each line and how that can present some challenges, but there are also great opportunities there for guys to find chemistry.

Jarnkrok’s ability to move around and his calming presence have had a positive influence on whatever line I have played him on to start the season, which is not unlike the way it was last year. That is pretty consistent for me. It is a matter of us helping the rest come together.

After bringing John Klingberg in, was some experimentation with the pairings inevitable while trying to find the right fit?

Keefe: Same sort of thing. You are trying to find the right mix and how they complement each other. You want to give it time to breathe, but you also need to perform well. You need to get good results. That is the balance.

Rielly-Brodie has been really consistent for us, as we expected that it would. It has been the one that has played the most together. Gio-Lily has lots of comfort together. Klingberg coming into the mix changes things up, and McCabe is still somewhat new here as well.

We are kind of working through that. I think you will see Mike Van Ryn mix things up and use guys in different spots.

You are quick to mention the contributions of your assistants on your staff. Not every head coach does that. Why is it important for you to praise them the way that you do?

Keefe: I think it is natural to do it. There is a lot that goes into preparing a team to play — not just coaches but everybody in the organization plays an integral role in getting the players on the ice, prepared to play, and able to play.

The more you can share the love and acknowledge people who aren’t out in front of the cameras like myself all the time is good and healthy. It is reality. There is a lot of work that goes into preparing an NHL team in the day-to-day. When guys are doing their job well and we are having success, I think it is important to acknowledge those guys.

They put in a lot of time, the assistant coaches. They put in a lot of time and a lot of work every day to help make my job easier.

Is there any benefit to getting a long road trip like this out of the way early?

Keefe: We are excited to get on the road. That is the first thing. We have had our time spent out in Gravenhurst, but otherwise, this group hasn’t been together on the road.

I think there are benefits with the newer players that we have to allow things to fall into place there. It is also challenging when you go out on the road, are playing against good teams, are moving around a lot, and it is a long trip. There are a lot of things to be prepared for.

We will take it a day at a time. Right now, we are focused on preparing for the Panthers and we will move along from there, but the guys are excited for a change of scenery.

What is the feeling involved when going back to Florida to play the team that eliminated you? Is there a bit of extra juice even though it is a regular-season game?

Keefe: It is a regular-season game, so I don’t think much of that is at play — at least not for me. Everybody is individual in that sense.

Any time you have been through a playoff series, it does add a little bit more for sure, but right now, in the early going of the season, we have to really be focused on our own game, being as prepared as possible, and continuing to take positive steps a more complete game, which we haven’t had yet.

We have to keep the focus on us, but we certainly have a lot of respect for the opposition. We know it is going to be a challenge. It is our first road game.

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