Hyman's absence another shot to Leafs' special teams
TSN Toronto Reporter Mark Masters reports on the Maple Leafs, who held an optional skate in Vancouver on Tuesday ahead of tonight’s game against the Canucks.
William Nylander is getting a reprieve. The 24-year-old winger showed up late to a team meeting on Monday and the Leafs initially planned to make him a healthy scratch tonight. But Nylander will be in the lineup against the Canucks.
"The situation has really allowed us to have some really good discussions as a team that I think will not only serve Will well, but also our entire group in terms of the accountability to each other," said head coach Sheldon Keefe.
The main message?
"How you do something is how you do everything, generally speaking, and there's a responsibility as teammates that everybody has here, and that includes the coaching staff. This time of year, most importantly, everybody has to be really focused and execute at a very high level in everything whether it's meetings or responsibilities on the ice," Keefe said. "We all have to be held to a very high standard."
This is not the first time Keefe has confronted this type of situation since taking over behind the Leafs bench. Kasperi Kapanen was forced to sit out a game last season after showing up late to a practice.
"It's not about punishment," said Keefe. "It's about growth and that's how we’ll approach it so [Nylander] will play tonight."
Keefe admitted it was disappointing that such discussions had to take place with only 11 games left in the regular season. He was asked how Nylander has reacted to the situation.
"We'll find out tonight," the coach said.
"I'm sure that he's going to be flying tonight," said Alex Kerfoot, who skated on a line with Nylander at Monday's practice. "He's been in quarantine for a bit. He's feeling good and played good last game and I'm sure there will be a big response from him tonight."
Nylander produced a goal and an assist while logging 21 minutes on Sunday, which was his first game back after missing five while on the NHL's COVID Protocol List.
"He's just a dynamic offensive player," Kerfoot said. "You saw it. He gets a couple good looks. He makes good on that chance, that partial breakaway, and then makes a high-skill play off the rush to [Auston Matthews] and when he's at his best that's what he's doing. He's obviously a really good skater, really good with the puck and he's a load to handle when he gets feeling it."
Ilya Mikheyev is day-to-day with an undisclosed issue joining Zach Hyman (MCL sprain) on the sideline and leaving the Leafs depleted up front.
"Circumstances have changed a little bit since our initial decision yesterday," Keefe acknowledged.
Pierre Engvall and Adam Brooks, the extra forwards on the trip, will draw in tonight.
Rasmus Sandin appears poised to draw into the Leafs lineup tonight and play his second NHL game of the season. The 21-year-old blue liner has been out since sustaining a foot fracture in his first and only AHL game this season on Feb. 15.
"He's had a tough go of things," said defenceman Justin Holl. "It was kind of a weird break in a place where it wasn't healthy to be on it all the time so it was a little bit of a longer recovery. I know he was disappointed in that, but he came to the rink every day with a positive attitude. He had one sole focus, which was getting better. I'm really happy that he's getting an opportunity tonight. He's a great player and I'm sure he'll show it."
Sandin skated with Zach Bogosian on the third pair at Monday's practice and also took reps with the second power-play unit.
"In an ideal scenario, you would have had him with the Marlies first to get up and running," said Keefe, "but the circumstances have changed and we're running out of time so we do have to look to find a way to get him in here soon."
The Marlies are currently shutdown due to COVID-19 protocols and have postponed all games through April 28.
Schedule changes: The @TorontoMarlies' games through Apr. 28 have been postponed. Makeup dates TBD.— AHL Communications (@AHLPR) April 20, 2021
The @RocketLaval and @BellevilleSens will now meet Apr. 23 and 24 in Ottawa.https://t.co/UnARrIP52A pic.twitter.com/Afv4uamak7
"His pathway to being an NHL player is to be a guy that shows he can handle the defensive responsibilities and handle defending at the NHL level, handle the physicality," Keefe said of the 5-foot-11 Sandin. "Doing that at five-on-five is the most important thing and that's a pathway for him to utilize the other skills that he has in terms of his offence, the way he distributes the puck, and any contributions he can make on the power play."
Sandin stayed out late at the optional morning skate to work with assistant coach Manny Malhotra, who oversees the power play, on getting shots through from the point.
Sandin played 28 games with the Leafs last season, but didn't see action during the playoff bubble last summer even after Jake Muzzin got hurt.
"As we reflect on last season, the defensive pieces and being able to give him minutes at five-on-five that you need to be able to get out of your defencemen, there were some issues there that showed that he needed more time," Keefe said. "He hasn't necessarily had more experience in game action just because of the circumstances that the world has brought on us here in the last little while, and then you pile on his injury, but he has grown. He's an older man now and he's continued to develop. He's stronger, all those kind of things. He has a pathway here to become a full time NHL player. It's just a matter of whether he can do it in this short timeframe that we have and the circumstances that are in front of us."
Travis Dermott stayed out late at the morning skate and projects to be a scratch tonight.
Sandin's only previous NHL game this season came against the Canucks back on Feb. 8. He only logged five minutes, but picked up an assist on the game-winning goal in the third period.
Sandin is officially listed as a game-time decision.
Muzzin has missed two games this season due to a facial fracture, but Morgan Rielly, T.J. Brodie and Holl have played in every game, which has allowed the Leafs to stick with the same top two defence pairings basically all year. Rielly built chemistry with new recruit Brodie while Muzzin and Holl picked up where they left off last season.
But during the weekend Keefe finally shuffled the deck. Holl skated with Rielly and Muzzin lined up beside Brodie.
"We've been talking about it for a couple months now, to be honest," Keefe explained. "We put Brodie with Rielly to start the season and we like that. We like Muzz and Holl, of course. But Brodie is a new player for us and we haven't tried anything else. Injuries and such you thought might force you to change things up at different times and it hasn't happened for us that way. We've been talking about it and just thought we had a couple of days between games, we had a practice where we were able to get them to practice that way together, and just want to get a look for it. We don't know what's going to happen here ahead of us and just think it makes sense to get people comfortable playing with different people."
It is an adjustment, of course.
"Mo is buzzing around in the O-zone a little bit more," Holl noted. "I have to think defence a little bit more, which is totally fine. That is my role so I'm happy to do that and he creates so many offensive chances that it's a huge positive. On the margin maybe I have to be a little bit safer in terms of my positioning, but other than that it's pretty similar."
David Rittich will make his second start and third appearance with the Leafs tonight.
"He's a fun guy," said Kerfoot. "A fun guy to be around. He's always in a good mood and he's played really well. He's been around the league for a while now. He's obviously a really good goalie and he's got a lot of confidence in his game and I think that resonates throughout our group."
Rittich stopped 16 of 17 shots faced in a relief performance last Thursday against the Winnipeg Jets.
"I felt way better than my first game with new teammates," he said after that game. "I had an opportunity to practice with the team. Feeling good, just a little sad or a little pissed we lost. I did a brutal mistake with that fourth goal."
Rittich and Mitch Marner misplayed the puck leading to a goal by Nikolaj Ehlers, which put the game out of reach.
"I thought I was going to be first on it and chip it to the corner for Mitch," Rittich explained. "I've got to be smarter and make better plays."
Projected Leafs lines based on Monday's practice:
Galchenyuk - Matthews - Marner
Nylander - Tavares - Kerfoot
Robertson - Brooks - Spezza
Thornton - Engvall - Simmonds
Rielly - Holl
Muzzin - Brodie
Sandin - Bogosian