Right-shot Timmins will help fill Leafs’ blueline void as Klingberg heads to LTIR
The Maple Leafs practised at Ford Performance Centre in Toronto on Thursday before flying to Chicago for Friday afternoon’s game against the Blackhawks.
The Leafs placed defenceman John Klingberg on long-term injured reserve on Thursday.
"His status is that he is working through things to determine what is going to be the next steps for him," said head coach Sheldon Keefe in a media session before the announcement was made.
After participating in a morning skate last Friday in Stockholm, Klingberg told reporters he is dealing with an injury that he's had to manage throughout his career, but hit "rock bottom" early this season. He left Saturday's practice early and has not been seen on the ice since.
TSN Hockey Insider Darren Dreger reports that Klingberg aggravated a hip issue during a game on Oct. 19 in Florida.
Klingberg, who signed a one-year deal on July 1, last played on Nov. 11 in the team’s final game before the Leafs flew to Sweden.
It's not yet been determined if John Klingberg will require surgery beyond his rehab. Still time to work through the process of what's next.— Chris Johnston (@reporterchris) November 23, 2023
The LTIR designation guarantees Klingberg will be out of the #leafs lineup until at least Dec. 12.
By moving Klingberg and his $4.15-million salary to long-term injured reserve, the cap-strapped Leafs have more roster flexibility. Toronto is now able to activate defenceman Conor Timmins, who has been on LTIR with a lower-body injury, for Friday's game against the Chicago Blackhawks.
"In terms of what he can provide with getting the puck moving and getting it to the net, it is similar to what Klingberg's strengths are," Keefe noted. "It will help us on the power play as well. Having more mobility, puck movement, and some offensive contributions can help us for sure."
Timmins, a righty, has skated on the third pair and second power-play unit at practice this week.
"The other part of it is getting a right shot in there," Keefe continued, "which is important in terms of moving the puck and being a little more fluid with ourselves offensively in all three zones. Having the right shot will help there, too."
With Klingberg and Timothy Liljegren (high ankle sprain) sidelined, the Leafs have been dressing an all-lefty defence. Jake McCabe will continue to play on his off side on the second pair with Mark Giordano, but William Lagesson will now be able to shift back to his strong side on the third pair.
Timmins recorded six points in three pre-season games before getting hurt on Sept. 29 during a game in Montreal.
"He had a really good pre-season," said centre Auston Matthews. "He's put in a lot of work over his time being injured but also in the summer, so looking forward to getting him back."
The Leafs defence will be tested by Blackhawks rookie phenom Connor Bedard, who has scored 10 goals in 17 games.
"It's amazing how he's come in and been able to adapt so quickly," said Leafs centre John Tavares. "In a lot of ways not surprising. Obviously a very special talent."
Matthews famously opened his career with a four-goal game in October of 2016, but didn't end up scoring his 10th goal until his 21st game.
"He's maybe found himself on a bit of a heater right now and when you're seeing the puck go in it always gives you a lot of confidence," Matthews said. "Sometimes it takes time and it's always an adjustment. I think it's just a constant back and forth with the league and how teams start to adjust to you and how you start to figure that out as well. But he's obviously a special player and he's going to be able to figure that out."
Bedard used the Matthews pull-and-release move as a template for his own shot, which may actually help Toronto's blueliners.
"The shot and changing the angle and the release points and stuff like that, we have experience with that just practising against Auston," said defenceman Morgan Rielly.
The Leafs held Bedard off the board during their first meeting this season, but learned that the 18-year-old is much more than just a lethal shot.
"Just the whole package," Rielly said. "He can beat you in many different ways. He's a unique player."
The Matthews line was matched against Bedard's unit back on Oct. 16 when Chicago claimed a 4-1 victory. Shot attempts favoured the Blackhawks 13-7 in the eight minutes and 40 seconds Matthews and Bedard shared the ice in 5-on-5 play, per NaturalStatTrick.com. Neither team scored in those minutes.
"He skates really well," Matthews noted. "He's got very good IQ. He's not just a pure goal scorer. He makes plays as well. I think he kind of does everything really well. His shot obviously stands out, but there's lots of little things that he does that maybe go unnoticed."
"It's his hockey sense that impresses me more than anything," said Tavares. "He's just got such good awareness of time and space out there."
Leafs players are downplaying the fatigue factor as they get set to resume their schedule following the two games in Sweden last week.
"We're back now," Rielly stressed. "We're not going to talk about the time change or travel or anything like that. We're back here. We're back playing our normal schedule."
Toronto just wrapped up a 12-day stretch, which saw them play just the two games in Stockholm. The team took two days off after returning from Sweden on Sunday night.
"It's been pretty good," Matthews said of the transition back to Toronto time. "It's a little bit easier coming back than going there. A couple days to kind of get recuperated and a couple good practice days so hopefully we'll be able to hit the ground running tomorrow."
Keefe liked the energy at Wednesday's workout, but felt Thursday would offer a better indicator of how the group is feeling.
"The energy was still good today," he said. "It was a short, but hard practice. I liked the tempo and pace of where the guys are at. We are excited to get playing games."
Friday will be the start of a five-games-in-nine-nights run for the Leafs.
Veteran winger Calle Jarnkrok stayed off the ice on Thursday after taking a Matthews shot off the left leg late in Wednesday's practice.
"Didn't like how it was feeling today," Keefe said. "We sent him for imaging, but the news has been positive so far. He will come with us on the trip and be a game-time decision."
Noah Gregor took Jarnkrok's spot on the third line beside Max Domi and Nick Robertson at practice. Ryan Reaves slotted in on the fourth line beside David Kampf and Bobby McMann. Robertson took Jarnkrok's spot on the second power play unit.
After Klingberg was placed on LTIR, the team called up Alex Steeves, who has 11 goals and 18 points in 14 games with the Toronto Marlies in the American Hockey League.
Reaves, who signed a three-year deal on July 1, has been a healthy scratch in three straight games.
"We haven't played a lot of games, so he hasn't missed a ton of game action when you look at it relative to the period of time since he last played," Keefe said. "It is about maximizing the practice reps. He has had a couple of good days of practice here. He is a part of our team. He is an important part of our team. He is a presence around our room. He is continuing to keep a good attitude, which we have loved. He is a professional all the way through. He recognizes that the team has responded well in the last little bit. We still recognize that he is a piece of our team and we continue to maximize every day that he gets in order to keep him ready."
Mitch Marner admits the penalty he took in the second period of Sunday's game against the Minnesota Wild was "stupid." Marner slashed Joel Eriksson Ek on the back of the leg after the two became tangled in front of the net. The Wild centre appeared to take his time getting off the Leafs winger, who had fallen to the ice.
"It's one of those ones that you're kind of pissed off at yourself," Marner said. "I don't like doing that because it shows anger, but I don't know, I don't think you can ride a guy like a horse. I kind of lost my cool. It's something that I don't like doing, but I guess sometimes the switch kind of flips on you. Very happy our kill got the job done there."
Marner gets sent to the box for slashing after this pic.twitter.com/Jn50pbRJpE— Omar (@TicTacTOmar) November 19, 2023
Last season, William Nylander took his first career roughing penalty and was praised by Keefe for standing up for himself. Does the coach feel the same way about Marner's penalty?
"You don't love that one because it is so obvious and apparent," Keefe said, "but you do love guys competing, holding their ground, and standing up for themselves. Sometimes you have to take those and you have to kill them, which is exactly what we did. You want to find a way that you can do it without maybe the officials noticing. Sometimes you do have to hold your ground and stay in the fight. In that case, I liked it, especially knowing we got the kill."
The Leafs killed off all seven opposition power plays they faced during the two games in Sweden. Toronto had allowed 14 power-play goals in the previous 15 games.
"It's definitely trending in the right way," said Marner, who plays on the top penalty-kill unit with Kampf. "We did a very good job of limiting chances around our net. Goalies made big saves when we needed them to and D-men made some big blocks, forwards had some good sticks and good denying of entries, and also we were rolling the lines pretty well so every killer that was out there was pretty fresh."
The Leafs’ penalty kill percentage is up to 75.4, which is 24th overall.
Marner looked to be upset after taking a Rielly shot to the arm during a power-play drill on Thursday. The pair of longtime teammates appeared to have a brief, heated exchange after the rep concluded.
"We're not getting into that, are we," Marner said. "There's nothing. I'm joking with him all day. Nothing happening. It's fine. We're joking and having fun with each other. It's what we do."
Marner was within earshot when Rielly started his media session and encouraged reporters to ask about what happened. A laughing Rielly wanted to know what Marner had said.
"I said, 'Nothing went on,'" Marner chimed in. "I said, 'I was chirping you about the shot and we were having a good laugh and we're good buddies.'"
"No one was upset at all," Rielly said. "It was all good. It happens."
With Movember winding down, Matthews was asked who's growing the best moustache on the team.
"Rielly gave us a little last-week moustache so there's been some good ones in here," Matthews said with a smile, "but I have to credit the staff for their work. They got some pretty good ones in there."
In particular, Matthews gave some love to head athletic therapist Paul Ayotte.
"He doesn't really sport the facial hair quite often," Matthews said. "The guys have been giving it to him pretty good. I think it looks great."
Lines at Thursday's practice:
Knies - Matthews - Marner
Bertuzzi - Tavares - Nylander
Robertson - Domi - Gregor
McMann - Kampf - Reaves
Rielly - Brodie
Giordano - McCabe
Lagesson - Timmins
Blackhawks lines in practice:— Ben Pope (@BenPopeCST) November 23, 2023