June 10, 2023
Sheldon Keefe: "If Denis Malgin plays the way he's played, he'll probably move up the lineup"

Sheldon Keefe: “If Denis Malgin plays the way he’s played, he’ll probably move up the lineup”

Sheldon Keefe, Toronto Maple Leafs practice

After Thursday’s practice, head coach Sheldon Keefe discussed the performance of his bottom six lines, the TJ Brodie-Justin Holl pairing, Mitch Marner turning a corner against Vegas on Tuesday, and Pierre Engvall at center against the wing.

Practice Lines – November 10th

Will it be Erik Källgren tomorrow and what’s the news on Matt Murray?

Keefe: It will be Källgren. I haven’t received an update on Matt Murray yet. He seemed to have been on the ice forever. I haven’t learned much about how his day went or how he’s feeling – not that we’d be on the phone today anyway. It’s an everyday thing.

Kallgren will leave tomorrow. We’re not making a decision for Saturday yet. It seemed like another good day for him. He stayed on the ice and even got some extra work. All of this is positive.

As we discussed yesterday, he and the medical team will make the appropriate decision. At this point it is clearly suitable for everyday use. His return is surely imminent. When the exact day is, we will decide in due course.

You mentioned that the second period of the Vegas game was the best Mitch Marner played all season. He’s made two stunning games but is there anything else that makes it the best he’s played this year?

Keefe: You can just feel it. There were a few moments before his goal – a couple of shifts before – when he came flying through the neutral zone, made a play and created a shot towards the net. He was just starting to look like Mitch at his best.

Offensively he has a different gait in terms of how his feet move, but also in terms of how his feet, hands and brain work together. They seemed to be in sync at that moment. This continued through the game.

I thought that in the turnaround it made a big difference for us in terms of the time we spent in the offensive zone and that we are dangerous in the offensive zone. He is able to do that.

For some reason it took some time to get there but it was definitely nice to see. The hope is that it just keeps going and he will build momentum from there. That has been the case for him in recent seasons. We are confident that it will continue.

Why was the David Kampf-centric line so effective in your mind?

Keefe: Kampf – we know that very well from his time with us last season – plays very reliably and consistently. Aston-Reese has proven very similar in this regard throughout his career. The more these guys have played together, the more they’re learning how to work well together and building the chemistry it takes to be the kind of line that plays against really tough competition with tough starts defensively and still making time can spend on offense side of the red line.

Malgin’s addition to the group, as we mentioned, has brought another layer or layer of skill that has kept her even more on offense and keeping the puck off good players. There’s a certain chemistry that comes together with the way the three have worked together and that’s what you get.

That’s what we had in mind for this line. We were very familiar with how we used combat last season. We expected it to be similar this season. It took a while to find the right mix.

At the moment we are happy with Malgin there. The reality is that if Malgin plays the way he did, he’ll probably move up the lineup, but at the same time, I’m reluctant to do so because it works so well in this role.

Was starting the battle line for some time as a reward for what they achieved against Carolina, or a way to ensure they put minutes before penalties kicked in?

Keefe: It’s partly because they had as good a line as we had the night before. In addition, Vegas also launched its fourth line. You kind of get your matchup instantly. All of these things add up to what makes sense.

Was there a challenge for the other bottom six line to find some consistency and chemistry?

Keefe: Yes, that’s fair to say. As you can see from the number of players that played there – and the positions were different, with different people at the center – it’s an ongoing work for me and our team to find the right mix. We will continue to work on that.

I liked Pierre in the middle. I know he still prefers to play on the wing but we need him in the middle now. I liked what he brought for us.

With Jarnkork – like Aston-Reese, Malgin and these new guys – we’re trying to find the right place for them. Jarny played well in my opinion and yet it seems like he didn’t find the right chemistry with any type of line. He didn’t get into the right rhythm.

Maybe part of that is moving it around. Part of that maybe is that he’s new and finding his game. And yet, watching him, I like a lot of the things he does. He scored some great goals for us and performed well. He is responsible defensively and did a good job on penalties.

There are little things he brings with him, although he has more. Maybe that will help once we figure that line out.

What do you like about Pierre Engvall in the center?

Keefe: Only the speed he has and the size. He’s not easy to move. If he’s playing below points in the offensive zone when you’re the opponent in the offensive zone, it’s a tough guy to get through and move. He’s in the way. When he gets the puck he does a really good job shooting it out of the zone and making a play on it.

Those are the things he brings there. You lose some of it [on the wing] where he can really get ahead of the game and really push the pace offensively as he progresses and is F1 on the precheck. He can step on the puck first.

We need him in the middle now and I like what I saw out of it. I suspect he’ll be a guy that we’ll continue to move around and spend time on the battle line as well. Since we’re trying to find the right mix with the top three lines at this point, we’ll stick with that mix for a bit.

Are you seeing the results you want with TJ Brodie and Justin Holl together so far?

Keefe: We have, yes. I think Justin Holl’s game has really stabilized since he started dating Brodie. [Brodie] apparently has the ability to really help his partner. Usually we spend less time on the defensive side of the red line. They kill games faster. He very rarely puts his partner in bad situations. When his partner puts TJ in a bad position, he does a good job of fixing it.

That really helped there. It was important for us when we look at the other couples. Rielly-Liljegren is a new couple for us and we’ve tried to give this one some time. We liked that too. We believe it can continue to improve if they feel more comfortable playing together. It seems everyone who played with Gio did a pretty good job for us.

It’s not ideal for us to have Brodie play on the left because he’s the most comfortable left-hander to play on the right, but I think that balance makes sense for us right now.

Now at the age of 35, do you still admire Sidney Crosby, continue to make adjustments to his game and make an impression?

Keefe: I don’t know him that well but from the outside you can see how he trains, how he prepares, how serious he is about his craft, the skills he has and how competitive he is on the ice. All of these things add up to a guy who looks like he could play forever and still be productive.

It certainly presents many challenges. We’ll see him a lot for the rest of the month.

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