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

After Friday’s practice, head coach Sheldon Keefe discussed the status of Tyler Bertuzzi, Mitch Marner, and Ilya Lyubushkin, sitting TJ Brodie for another game, and the instant chemistry of Auston Matthews-Max Domi.

Practice Lines – Mar. 22

How is Mitch Marner progressing?

Keefe: He is progressing. He skated the last few days. That is progress for sure. The plan is for him to take tomorrow off again and get back to it.

He is skating. He was out there for a good bit before practice. He is making progress, but he is not available this weekend.

How about Tyler Bertuzzi?

Keefe: He is not here in the building today, so it is not good in that sense. He is a little bit worse than he was the other day with different symptoms. He is questionable for tomorrow. He is not ruled out, but he is not well enough to be here today.

Is Ilya Lybushkin feeling better compared to earlier in the week?

Keefe: Yeah, he is. Today was his first day on the ice since the Carolina game. He is not going to play tomorrow. We will give it another day and then take it from there.

Matt Murray was taking shots on the ice. Is that a good sign of his progress?

Keefe: A very good sign. He has been out a little bit with the guys here and there, but today was probably the biggest step he has taken in terms of our guys being out there and him taking part in some of our skill drills and power-play work before practice.

It is a great sign. It looks like he is moving well. Obviously, he is a long way away from being an option for games or anything like that, but it seems like the work that he has put in and the recovery that he has had have served him well.

Why do you think Max Domi and Auston Matthews have found instant chemistry?

Keefe: There are parts of their game, not unlike Mitch and Auston, that fit very well. Max looks to make plays and has the ability to make plays. Any time something is fresh and new and it works well early, you kind of ride that a little bit. That is where those guys are at right now.

Some of it is that it is a fit with the chemistry of the group. With Mitch and Jarnkrok being out, we have felt that we have needed more depth and skill on the wings, in particular, so that has changed how we have approached things with Max.

We have benefited from the connection that those guys have made and we’ll look to ride that.

Sometimes a scratch is viewed as a punishment, but you have often framed it as an opportunity to reset mentally, as you did with Ilya Samsonov earlier in the season. Is that how you’re viewing it with TJ Brodie?

Keefe: Yeah, it is more of that. Brods is a better player than how he has played. He has also played better hockey than the perception may be as the guy who has taken on the hardest minutes and the hardest matchups of anybody on our team.

Plus/minus is what it is, but when you are taking on the hardest matchups and are still finding ways to be on the positive side, you are doing a lot of good things there. But we and he acknowledge that he could be better.

We need him at his best. If we have to take a step back for that to be the case, that is what we will do. That is what we are doing right now.

Where would you like to see Brodie get back to?

Keefe: I’d just like to see him clear his head. That is a big part of it — the mental part of it. He has had a rough go of it from the beginning of training camp all the way through. Because of the demands that we put on him, he hasn’t really had a chance to breathe, regroup, and find himself. That is where we are at.

We added some defensive depth at the trade deadline. We are in a different position as a team than we were. We get a chance to really help Brods with the mental part of it.

We are hoping it re-energizes him, and with that comes an extra step. When you have an extra step, all of a sudden, the puck moves quicker, you are defending less, and all of these kinds of things start to fall into place.

The most important thing for us right now is to give him the time he needs to get back to being himself. As I said, he is a very, very important piece of our team. When he is at his best, he is as good of a defender as we have and is reliable and consistent as any guy we have. We have to get him back to that.

It wasn’t that long ago that Jamie Benn won the Art Ross with 87 points. Connor McDavid already has 86 assists. Auston Matthews is going for 70 goals. Can you speak to the offensive explosion in the game and how those two have led it in this era or decade?

Keefe: There have been some rule changes along the way that have benefited the game and the individuals. That said, the talent level of players is outrageous.  We get to see it every day with Auston, Mitch, William, and John. The talent level is high.

I would put it further than that to say it is not just the stars or the superstars who have such outrageous talent. Obviously, they are on a different level, but even with any young player coming into a team, their skill set is so much higher than what it was years ago.

As a result, the game offensively — the execution, the passing, the shooting, and all of the tactics that come with it — is just in a really good place. Some of the rules have benefitted guys, whether it is overtime rules, faceoff rules, the power play, icings, or all of that kind of stuff. It has contributed to guys getting better numbers.