Ahead of Thursday’s game, Sheldon Keefe discussed Mark Giordano’s week-to-week injury absence, the plan on defense, Auston Matthews’ dip in production (two points in last seven, minus-five), and giving Joseph Woll a run of starts in goal.
Game Day Skate Lines – Nov. 30
Lines at Leafs skate
Knies – Matthews – Nylander
Bertuzzi – Tavares – Marner
Robertson – Domi – Jarnkrok
McMann – Kampf – Gregor
Rielly – Brodie
Lagesson – McCabe
Benoit – Timmins
Host Kraken @TSN_Edge
— Mark Masters (@markhmasters) November 30, 2023
What is Mark Giordano’s status?
Keefe: He has a broken finger, so he will be week-to-week.
How is Timothy Liljegren progressing?
Keefe: He is progressing well. He got on skates yesterday for the first time. He felt good. He is not close yet at this point.
Why have you opted to put William Lagesson with Jake McCabe with McCabe remaining on the right?
Keefe: McCabe has been playing on the right there. As we talked about yesterday, I think we will see the pairs move around quite a bit. This is the starting point, and Mike Van Ryn will manage the defense back there.
The good thing with Lagesson is that he has played both sides. You can move him about. At different times, you can pair different people.
Timmins and Benoit have done a good job for us, too. I think you will see some of that.
When the defense battled injuries last season, the team seemed to play better because of it. Does it force the players to refocus on the task at hand?
Keefe: Yeah, it requires that you are playing together and supporting one another in all areas of the game: with the puck, without the puck, and defending with numbers. That is how you want to play at the best of times but certainly when adversity hits — in this case, it’s injuries.
You need guys to step up in that manner. It is not just those coming in that have to do a job. It is everybody else who has to pick up the slack a little bit.
When deciding between dressing Ryan Reaves and Bobby McMann, is it about keeping both engaged? How much does the opponent matter?
Keefe: It is a bit of both for sure. We don’t want to let either guy sit for too long.
Whether it is our own game and what we think we need for our team game, or how we think the game might go in terms of the opposition and the challenges they might bring, it is a bit of a challenge. It is not necessarily one thing or the other. You are constantly having those discussions.
McMann has done a good job for us. He has probably been out a little too long. We want to get him back involved.
What is your sense of Auston Matthews’ game right now?
Keefe: We have talked enough about these guys. They are trying to find it. They are trying to find the balance of producing, doing what they do best, and being a difference maker offensively for the group while also recognizing that there is a process they need to work through to earn those looks and opportunities.
Mitch is similar, and even Willy has kind of gone on the other side of it now and has to work his way back to the same way. Guys go through this. The focus has to be on our team game and what their role is in our structure and what is required there. Everything else will fall into place. They are too good as players for it not to.
What have you learned about Joseph Woll’s game of late that gives you the confidence to keep him in the net for his third consecutive?
Keefe: He just looks confident and comfortable in the net. He hasn’t had a dip in either of these two games. It is two good ones in a row. You are starting to get into a bit of a rhythm now in terms of our schedule, which we haven’t had for quite a while now. It just sort of makes that decision somewhat easy.
How do you inform the goalies of the decision? Do you only talk to the starter or do you explain it to the other goalie as well?
Keefe: I don’t break the news to the goalie. Curtis Sanford handles that. Sometimes, if it is something extreme or something that really needs my perspective, I will spend time with them and explain my perspective of it. Generally speaking, Curtis and I talk about it.
In this case, the decision is somewhat easy. Joseph has done a good job. It allows Sammy more time to continue to work and be ready when the net comes back his way. We really like the job that Woll has done in the last little bit.
Having coached Rich Clune on the Marlies, what is your reaction to seeing him named an assistant with their coaching staff?
Keefe: Pretty cool. I was talking to him the other day. He has done a tremendous job of embracing his role in our player development department. The Marlies were looking for some more help on the everyday assistant-coaching side of it. Because of the job that he has done, the character of the person, and what he means to the organization, he seemed like the natural one for them to go to.
It is a change for him, but I think he — not surprisingly — jumped all in on the player development side. He sort of bridged that gap between the coaching staff and the players. With everything he has gone through in his own career — being a minor-league player, an NHL player, and all of his life experiences — I think it is a tremendous add for that group.