Leafs Ice Chips: Keefe mixes up forward lines, promotes Barrie to first PP
TSN Toronto reporter Mark Masters checks in daily with news and notes on the Maple Leafs, who skated at Gila River Arena ahead of tonight's game against the Arizona Coyotes.
* Thursday was the first on-ice session for new head coach Sheldon Keefe.
"I wasn't sure how it was going to feel and how it was going to be," he admitted, "but it really just felt like coaching. It was nice. Great support from the staff, both the training and equipment staff, to just have things rolling when we arrived. By the time the players got in the building, it just felt like another day.
"We have good players here, we have a good team and my message to the players today is I'm not focused on what this team isn't," Keefe said. "I'm focused on what this team is ...We have a lot of work to do, a lot of things to really just renew the spirit of the team. That’s really the main focus and so, if we can tweak a couple things that can inspire some confidence then hopefully we can build on that."
* Three of four forward lines had a new look. Ilya Mikheyev was promoted to left wing on the John Tavares line with Zach Hyman, a righty who usually plays the left, shifting to right wing. Alexander Kerfoot, who has played centre most of this season, moved to left wing on the third line with Jason Spezza at centre and Kasperi Kapanen on right wing. Nick Shore, who has played in 18 straight games, is projected to be a healthy scratch tonight.
Lines at Leafs morning skate:
Johnsson - Matthews - Nylander
Mikheyev - Tavares - Hyman
Kerfoot - Spezza - Kapanen
Engvall - Gauthier - Petan
Rielly - Ceci
Muzzin - Holl
Dermott - Barrie
"We want to make sure we do a better job of reducing the chances against and reducing the things that are happening in front of our net," said Keefe. "That’s a real focus for us. That's something we felt we could address pretty quickly here today. It’s going to take time to get it right on the ice, of course, but the feedback was good."
* Tyson Barrie was promoted to the top power play unit skating on the left flank. Jake Muzzin quarterbacked the second unit. Andreas Johnsson moved to the second unit and also took reps on the penalty kill.
Power play units at the Leafs morning skate:
Barrie - Nylander - Matthews
Kapanen - Kerfoot - Spezza
Leafs president Brendan Shanahan and general manager Kyle Dubas held a joint news conference before the skate.
* Dubas is disappointed he didn't get along better with former coach Mike Babcock.
"I am disappointed in myself. Coming into the job and knowing Mike was the coach, you certainly want everything to work out. Going through last season and going through the offseason, that was always my intention to try to do as best I could with that and I am disappointed in myself and only myself that it didn’t work out and we couldn’t become simpatico on every single topic."
* Shanahan doesn't believe there's any additional pressure on Dubas in the wake of the coaching change.
"I don't see this or view this decision by Kyle and the team as a situation where traditionalists might say, 'Well, you've spent your bullet.' That’s not how I view it. I can tell you that's not how our ownership views it. We are in this together. We’re making moves and we are evolving as we see we have to do."
* Shanahan and Dubas have the same vision for how the team should be built and what constitutes toughness in today's NHL.
Shanahan: "Well, I want to make it really clear that we are aligned. This is how I see a team should be built as well. Sometimes people want to too simplistically put us in one box. Speed and skill and then toughness and skill in an entirely different box. We want to be tough and we want to be gritty. Our interpretation of toughness and grittiness might be different than someone who played in the ’70s or ’80s or coached then."
Dubas: "I have a belief in the way the team is built. I am very biased about that, and that's fine. I have a deep belief in the character of the group and what they've shown. I think they've shown enough throughout of what we can accomplish when we play the way we’re capable of playing when we’re at our best."
* Shanahan explained how he knew it was time to make a change.
"I don’t know if I'd characterize it that way that a coach had lost the room. I just think that certainly from a player's perspective, you could see the frustration in their eyes. I really thought, even in our last game, the players were working really hard but there was a belief missing in them."
* Dubas revealed the theme of his message to the players in his address last night.
"What I asked from them was just solely their increased focus, concentration, work ethic and the ability to be a little bit uncomfortable, because we are going to go through some changes stylistically and with our systems. It may not look great at times and it may not feel great at times, but in the long run, it is to get the group to play the way it is absolutely designed to play."