May 29, 2023
Sheldon Keefe on the Maple Leafs' struggle to create a 5-on-5 offense in seven games: "We have two lines that gave us the chances... We need to get a little bit more out of lines three and four."

Sheldon Keefe on the Maple Leafs’ struggle to create a 5-on-5 offense in seven games: “We have two lines that gave us the chances… We need to get a little bit more out of lines three and four.”

Sheldon Keefe, Toronto Maple Leafs practice

After Wednesday’s practice, head coach Sheldon Keefe spoke about his team’s lack of 5-on-5 attacks so far, the status of injured players Kyle Clifford, Jake Muzzin and Matt Murray, and his new line combinations in practice.

Practice Lines – October 26th

Was there clarity or a timeline for Jake Muzzin?

Keefe: No clarity or timeline. Switching from regular IR to LTI really doesn’t matter. Nothing has changed. It’s the same situation. This is more of a kind of roster management. I don’t even know what’s happening there.

I know he didn’t have the aftercare he should have. Nothing changed about that.

Any news on Matt Murray?

What happened to Kyle Clifford?

Keefe: Cliff has a shoulder injury. He had an MRI here this morning. We haven’t gotten the results back yet. Obviously he will miss some time. To what extent, we’re not exactly sure. It doesn’t seem like anything too serious at this point. He’ll be out for a while.

Do you expect to add Filip Král to the lineup on this trip?

Keefe: We will see. Of course it was important for us to have an extra defender here so that we have the opportunity to make that change if we want to. Král is a guy we like. He had a good camp for us. It’s two years in a row that he’s had a good camp for us. He never made it last season.

Because of the injuries we have on defense at the moment, he has more opportunities to come here and experience that. We have a busy schedule in California so there might be an opportunity for him there. We’re just going to take it day by day and see how our team fares.

What’s the thinking behind the line changes we saw today?

Keefe: We didn’t score and in addition to goals we controlled the game we want – especially from our bottom six. We want to achieve a slightly different look and balance there. Bunting’s presence on this line gives us some additional attacking opportunities, especially if you also use Malgin there. We want to get a little more out of this group this way.

At the same time I wanted to give Kerfoot a look at the wing. It has achieved a bit of both while keeping the Tavares line intact. I also wanted to bring Engvall back with combat. I’m just really looking to achieve those things. I think it’s a good balance for us.

Is there a reason David Kampf and Pierre Engvall worked so well together last year?

Keefe: I think both have the ability to slide and also track the puck across the ice and be good on defense. We are looking for it to continue. With Pierre we’re trying to get things going a little more offensively this season with that line and Jarnkork. It didn’t really connect that way for us. We return to this look.

These guys played good minutes together and tough minutes for us at key times last season. We need to get more out of Pierre. When he came back into the lineup the other night, things didn’t go the way I expected. He needs to find another level here. At the same time, I have to help him find that groove.

Why do you think it was difficult to cause offense? Is it some bad luck?

Keefe: That’s part of it. If you go through each of the games again, I think there are a number of possibilities. Normally these pucks would go in, especially with the caliber of the players shooting them. It hasn’t been received. With that being said, I think we can always generate more as a group.

Part of that could also be as simple as the fact that we really have two lines that generated the chances for us. We have to get a little bit more out of lines three and four in order to control the game, generate our own chances and emphasize the opponent a bit more. That’s part of it – we want to see if we can do better and if that can impact the team as a whole.

Matthews and Tavares’ line did a pretty good job of creating enough scoring chances. We think they can be even more dominant, but they did a pretty good job. We need to be more consistent throughout the line-up.

How can the Matthews lineage be more dominant?

Keefe: I think it’s just consistent, layer by layer, with the attacking stance – not getting comfortable with the puck, just taking on defense and challenging. I think there are some team effects they could benefit from if we get a little more traction line by line.

This is how this year’s team introduced itself. That hasn’t come together here yet. When we get there I think there are advantages in the whole lineup that the top guys can take advantage of.

Otherwise, stay tuned, stay positive and stay hungry. No concerns at this end.

Do you think about keeping more of the additional players involved with the fourth line?

Keefe: That’s part of it. We talked about having the flexibility to keep the competition going. At the same time that we’re talking about here, I don’t think anyone here really got it anymore.

Simmonds and Clifford had good presence that brought them to the Winnipeg game, but it wasn’t the same in Vegas. That in and of itself allows us to change some things. We’re still looking for things that really come together. It hasn’t happened here yet.

Speaking of players taking chances, does Nick Robertson seem to have done that for you?

Keefe: Yes, he has. Which is really encouraging: offensively he plays the first game, he scores two goals and there’s a lot of hype about it – rightly so – but offensiveness hasn’t been there in the games we’ve played since. He still does a lot of little things around the rink well. This is important.

As we see with some of our top guys, even if you don’t score you still need to be a productive player making a positive impact on the game. He does.

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