When can the Leafs expect some healthy bodies back?
TSN Toronto Reporter Mark Masters reports on the Maple Leafs, who practiced at the Ford Performance Centre on Tuesday ahead of Wednesday’s game against the Calgary Flames.
After being a late scratch on Monday night, Frederik Andersen (lower-body injury) did not take part in practice.
"No further update," said coach Sheldon Keefe. "It just continues to be day to day as he continues to be evaluated. We are just waiting for improvements."
Michael Hutchinson had his own net during Tuesday's workout while Jack Campbell and Joseph Woll split time at the other end. Hutchinson stopped 30 of 33 shots in Monday's 3-0 loss to the Flames.
"I'm feeling better each period," said Hutchinson, who made his season debut last Thursday against Ottawa. "The more frequent you play, the quicker you get back into a groove. I got two starts here in a short period of time. I felt more comfortable [Monday] than I did against Ottawa. Just hopefully I can keep progressing my game and keep working hard in practice and build on it."
Sidelined since Jan. 24 with a leg injury, Campbell is trending towards a return in the next week or so.
Forwards Zach Hyman and Joe Thornton and defenceman Jake Muzzin also missed practice on Tuesday after sitting out Monday's game.
"We are taking it a day at a time," said Keefe. "We will see where everyone is at tomorrow."
Hyman was in a great deal of pain after taking a shot off his foot on Saturday in Montreal.
Keefe said Thornton, who recently returned from a fractured rib, is dealing with a lower-body issue.
Muzzin broke a bone in his face late in Saturday’s game.
Wayne Simmonds (broken wrist) is also currently sidelined.
"It is a challenge," forward Jason Spezza said of all the injuries. "We miss the personalities. You miss the confidence they bring to the group ... When you go through it, there is [some] adapting. You have to pick up the slack. We miss those guys. They’re great players and they’re at the top of our lineup for a reason, but when they come out it's an opportunity for other guys."
The dynamic duo of Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner have played most of the season with either Thornton or Hyman on left wing. But with both guys sidelined on Monday it was John Tavares who took that spot before giving way to Alexander Kerfoot in the third period of a penalty-filled game against Calgary.
"It felt weird," said Marner. "Really couldn't get into too much of rhythm. The first two periods, we weren't at our best. We weren't moving very well. The puck wasn't moving very fast. Third period came around and we started moving the puck more, using our speed, trying to support each other in corners and getting the puck off the yellow [dasher] and when we're doing that, that's when we're at our best."
The trio of Tavares, Matthews and Marner played together for seven minutes at even strength. The Leafs were outshot (4-8) and outscored (0-1) in those minutes, per NaturalStatTrick.
"Myself and Mitch, I just didn't really think we had good legs in that first period and a half, two periods," said Matthews, who was held without a point for only the second time this season. "That’s on us. John played well and we really didn't support him there in those first two periods. Then, obviously, we jumbled up the lines a bit and I thought in that third period we definitely played better, had the puck a lot more in their zone, created some good chances that we just couldn't capitalize on."
Matthews and Marner finished with the same number of giveaways as shots (three).
After the game, Keefe explained that he put Tavares on the top line because he wanted to maintain the Matthews-Marner magic and didn't love the other options.
"The biggest thing you are looking for is somebody who allows those guys to do their thing and not disrupt it," Keefe said. "When they get moving around the offensive zone the way that they do, you can't get in their way. You have to have proper spacing and let them do their thing. Joe has done an excellent job of just attaching himself to the hash marks or below and playing down low."
The Leafs didn't do any line rushes on Tuesday, but Matthews and Marner both indicated they liked the results with Kerfoot in the third. The Harvard product, who has seven points in the last eight outings, has made a smooth transition from centre to wing in the last few games.
"He is a very open-minded guy," said Keefe. "He is willing to take on anything that you give him. In that sense, he is a good guy to have because, when you face situations like this where your lineup is disrupted through injuries, you can move him around and people like playing with him."
Shot attempts favoured the Leafs 5-1 in the close to five minutes that Kerfoot shared the ice with Matthews and Marner at even strength.
The Matthews, Marner chemistry was also missing on the man advantage as the NHL's best power play failed to convert on seven chances including a lengthy five-on-three.
What was missing?
"The effort," said Marner. "Getting pucks back, getting pucks to the net. We got to move the puck quicker ... and [have] guys getting in front of the net."
A good chunk of Tuesday's practice was spent on special teams work with assistant coach Manny Malhotra, who runs the power play, delivering instructions from the white board before the reps.
"When you have a night like that you just have to get back to your foundation," said Spezza. "We've probably been a little slow with our play. We have to have more of that attack mentality."
The Leafs went with one stacked unit – Matthews, Marner, William Nylander, Tavares and Morgan Rielly – for most of the power-play minutes on Monday. But Tuesday's practice featured two balanced units, which has been Malhotra's preference most of the season. Matthews and Marner anchor one group with Tavares and Nylander on the other.
"We're the top power play in the league right now so teams are going to kill you a little bit differently and it’s up to us to adapt to that," said Spezza. "But, first and foremost, it's getting back to that workmanlike mentality and getting second chances. A lot of times, our best chances come after shots and rebounds and recoveries so it's getting back to that. It's nothing we really have to change. It's just more tightening the habits up."
Jimmy Vesey, who has failed to produce a point in the last 12 games, got power-play reps for the first time on Tuesday taking over as the net-front presence on the Matthews-Marner unit.
The Leafs have cashed on 33.3 per cent of their power plays this season.
Monday’s game featured a lot of puck bobbles and missed opportunities so the Leafs looked to get their mojo back at practice.
"Just getting our feet moving and getting a lot puck touches and getting the confidence going," defenceman Justin Holl said of the focus. "We all know last night wasn't our best game and we have a lot better in us. We're looking for a clean slate tomorrow."
Due to the busy schedule (five games in the last eight days), Tuesday was Toronto's first full team practice since Feb. 14.
"Just a day to get your legs moving, feeling good and touching the puck," Marner said.
Even with all the injuries, it appears 27-year-old forward Alex Galchenyuk will have to wait a bit longer to make his Leafs debut.
"He has bounced around here," Keefe said. "He is trying to find a home and he is trying to solidify himself in the league again and within a lineup. We don't want to rush and just put him in. We think we need to give him an opportunity for success. There are a couple of things: finding the comfort level around here with his teammates, the staff, the system, and all of the surroundings. The other part of it is just his game. We think there are a lot of areas we would like to see him improve on and reconnect with his skill set.”
Tuesday was Galchenyuk's first full practice since being acquired in a trade from Carolina on Feb. 15.
"We feel like the best thing for Alex is to really settle in and get comfortable and look to make improvements so that when his opportunity comes, he can be best prepared for it," Keefe said. "We want to make sure that we can really work to develop his game and his confidence properly."
The Leafs are the seventh organization to own Galchenyuk's rights since he was drafted third overall in 2012.
Forwards Alexander Barabanov and Scott Sabourin were both absent from practice.
"Their PCR [COVID] tests from yesterday came back as indeterminate," Keefe said. "Subsequently, they were sent home to await further testing. Since that time, their tests were run a second time and they have come back negative. Their situation now is that if today’s PCR tests come back negative again — those results will be in the morning — they will rejoin the team."
Barabanov, an import from the KHL, posted a career high in shots (three) and ice time (11:13) in Monday's game against the Flames and earned a positive review from Keefe afterwards.
"He had good jump from the early going in the game," Keefe said. "He was on the puck. A strength of his game is when he gets to play in the offensive zone and I thought Willy had really great legs today and really got the puck there for that line."
Sabourin has yet to make his Leafs debut.
Leafs power-play units at Tuesday's practice:
Matthews - Boyd - Marner
Nylander - Tavares - Spezza