Ahead of Saturday’s game in Ottawa, Sheldon Keefe discussed the decision to start Martin Jones in net, William Lagesson returning to the lineup during Mark Giordano and Conor Timmins’ absences, and the emergence of Simon Benoit on the blue line.
Morning Skate Lines – Feb. 10
#Leafs lines during morning skate Feb. 10/24
Absent: Giordano, Timmins@BodogCA
— David Alter (@dalter) February 10, 2024
What went into the decision to start Martin Jones?
Keefe: Jonesy has played really well for us, so we need to keep him involved and keep him going.
At the same time, it gives Samsonov a couple of practice days. He and Jones both skated yesterday after not skating in the outdoor practice. They got a good work day in with Curtis Sanford and another good one today for Sammy.
Jones will go. He has done a really good job for us and got us through a tough period of time. He needs to remain a part of things here now, especially as we are still waiting for Joe Woll to come back. We need to use two guys.
What are you hoping to see from William Lagesson in his return to the lineup?
Keefe: Just to do the job that he did when he came in previously. When you haven’t played for a while, you need to simplify things even more, but he plays a pretty simple game as it is.
Just defend our end and move the puck up the ice. He has worked very hard and has been very patient. We have confidence in him because of how he has played. Much like Jones with the injuries in goal, when we had injuries on defense, he did a really nice job for us.
He should feel really good about that. Just get in with a clear mind and let it fly.
What is the status of Mark Giordano and Conor Timmins?
Keefe: He has a lower-body injury and is day-to-day. It may be a little bit longer than day-to-day, but it’s nothing too serious.
It is just an illness for Timmins that has hit him pretty hard. In terms of the time period, we don’t know. He wasn’t available to travel on the trip with us today.
What do you think is behind the growth of the Simon Benoit – Jake McCabe pairing?
Keefe: Just two competitors. No matter who Benoit has played with, he has played his game — defending hard, in your face, and not a lot of bad things are happening when he is on the ice. He has cleaned up a lot of things for us.
McCabe has the competitiveness and physicality as well but also has the speed to carry the puck up the ice and to help the group a little bit more offensively. Benoit has been there to support that well.
It’s worked well, but a lot of it is just rooted in the competitiveness and physicality that they both bring.
When you signed Benoit, at the time, you were maybe not thinking he was a potential top-four guy. When did the eyes start to open that he may be able to take on a bigger role?
Keefe: We liked a lot of things about him. Tre really liked the elements that he showed in Anaheim and in the minors: size, length, physicality, and he can cover ground, too. He has some speed to be able to get to spots and use his physicality to clean up plays. You like those elements.
What does it look like in our own organization? He didn’t get off to a great start and dealt with some injuries in training camp. He had to go through waivers to the minors, but he handled it unbelievably well. Through that time and also with the Marlies, the reports there were that he handled it tremendously.
And then an opportunity comes. We just talked about it with Lagesson. We had a lot of injuries on defense. We needed guys to step up.
He has played a lot in the league, and I think he has a lot of confidence in himself that is rooted in his competitive nature. Also, he works extremely hard at his game and on his body off the ice.
He played at a time when we had no other choice but to play him. He just did well. Really, from the beginning, very little has gone poorly when he is out there. He is always working at his game offensively to try to help us a little bit more in that area, but while doing that, he has never forgotten who he is and what he needs to do in terms of the defensive and competitive aspects that he brings.
He has been a tremendous addition for us. Obviously, he has helped us a great deal — not just through a difficult period with the injuries, but even now as he has continued to grow.
We saw a few shifts of Max Domi up with Auston Matthews the other night. Is that because you were coming out of penalty kills or is it something you want to see more of?
Keefe: It is something I have been wanting to see for a while. It is also a way to manage Knies’ minutes at different times. Sometimes Knies’ minutes end up being a little bit lower, but sometimes — because of the Matthews line and the demand that is on them with the matchups and flow of play — there is not as much recovery time.
I am trying to reduce that for Knies a little bit and give others some opportunity to go in there. Domi is a guy we’re trying to get more minutes for. It also gives him the opportunity to play with those guys up there.
What kind of challenge are you expecting from the Senators?
Keefe: The key is for us to play well within our own game and build off of the good things we did the other night to beat a really good Dallas team.
This Ottawa team stresses you with the offense they can generate through the lineup and through their defense. We have to defend really hard and play on their half of the ice.
Really, it is just about our game coming together.
Do you think there is an advantage for your team with the Senators coming off of their bye week?
Keefe: We will see. There is always debate, right? Rest vs. rust, and all of those kinds of things. We went through it coming out of the break ourselves, but we also played an opponent who was coming off of their break. It remains to be seen.
One thing that we do know: Any time we come in here to Ottawa, we get their best game. We expect nothing different.