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With Woll ready to return, Leafs plan to carry three goalies

Toronto Maple Leafs Joseph Woll - The Canadian Press

The Maple Leafs and Arizona Coyotes skated at Scotiabank Arena on Thursday. 

Joseph Woll is expected to return to the Leafs crease Thursday night for the first time since suffering a high ankle sprain on Dec. 7. 

"He looks good and feels good," said coach Sheldon Keefe. "We will give him every minute that we can. The plan is for him to play and be activated tonight before the game. That is the plan, but with any player coming off of the IR, you give him as much time as possible to make sure they are good. But that is the plan."

"He's good to go," promised centre Max Domi with a smile. "I think we're all probably ready to go two weeks prior to when we get cleared. Mentally I think he's fine."

Woll got off to a hot start this season, posting a .916 save percentage in 15 games before the injury. 

"When I got hurt, I think it was important to understand what I was doing well and hopefully keep that same mindset when I'm coming back," the 25-year-old said earlier this week. "I think I did a good job of processing stuff off the bat and from then it's just getting back in the habits, getting back into the action of the game, and back into the lifestyle of playing a lot." 

Woll got into a game with the Toronto Marlies last Friday as part of a conditioning stint in the American Hockey League. 

"Going down and getting some time in with the Marlies checked the last box knowing he could get through the game and the positions that he needed to," said Keefe. "He got hurt with a certain movement that he has to repeat countless times in a game. That is probably the biggest hurdle for him to get over."

Ilya Samsonov and Martin Jones have split the workload since Woll got hurt. The Leafs plan to carry three goalie moving forward rather than risk losing Jones on waivers. 

"What's really important when you have three guys is that you don't really have three guys," Keefe explained. "You have to focus on two. Otherwise, you are halfway, and you are then affecting three guys."

Samsonov will dress as the back-up on Thursday.  

"Jonesy's job is to stay ready," said Keefe. "We will continue to work him in when we can, but we don't want to be too disruptive to Samsonov or Woll. We will manage rest and things accordingly."

Jones cleared waivers at the end of training camp before stabilizing the Leafs crease in December and early January after Woll got hurt and Samsonov struggled. 

Samsonov cleared waivers on Jan. 1 amid a nightmarish start to the season. He's since resurrected his game. 

"The most important thing is to have three quality goaltenders who have all won games and have carried our team through tough spots at different times in the season," said Keefe. "We have to continue to manage and keep them ready, but I do think it is important for us to clearly identify two, which we have in Samsonov and Woll."

ContentId(1.2082550): Leafs plan to start Woll against 'Yotes, carry three goalies


Right-shot defenceman Timothy Liljegren will miss a second straight game due to an undisclosed injury sustained on Saturday in Colorado. 

"We thought there was a chance that he would come in today and be feeling good, but he was just not there," said Keefe. "He is not where he wants to be or needs to be. He will continue to be unavailable for now."

Liljegren worked out on his own prior to the Leafs skate. Conor Timmins, another righty rearguard, remains sidelined as he recovers from mono.

The Leafs will be forced to dress an all-lefty defence for the second straight game. It didn't go well in Tuesday's 6-2 loss to the Vegas Golden Knights. In that game, Morgan Rielly started on the right side of the top pair, which allowed T.J. Brodie to stay on his strong side. 

"It's challenging," Rielly admitted. "It's just the opposite of what you're used to, like, when you're closing  gaps, when you're crossing over outside of the offensive zone. But it's not about excuses. It's actually easier in the offensive zone. There are good things as well. It's just trying to get familiar with it."

Rielly, who finished the game a season worst minus-4, returned to the left side in the third period when he played with Simon Benoit. Brodie was joined by Jake McCabe, who has looked comfortable on the right side after making the move earlier this season. 

At Thursday's skate, Rielly and Brodie reunited, but with Brodie on the right. 

"He played better on the left side of late, but we are in a jam right now," Keefe explained. "We talked through all of the different options. When you are in a jam like this, you have to fall on what has worked for you over time."

Rielly and Brodie have struggled together this season, but historically it has been a pair the team is comfortable with. 

"Not going the best right now, but it has worked well for us," Keefe stressed. "Benoit-McCabe has worked really well for us. Splitting that up, I don't know if it really helps our cause. Brodie has been better on the left, but he has played more on the right than anybody on our team. When we have no righties in a jam like this, we have to trust and give these guys a chance to go out and play ... McCabe has done a good job on the right side for us. Brodie has done a better job on his off side than anybody in the entire league over the course of his career."

It will also be on the forwards to make life as easy as possible for the defencemen. 

"You got to get to your spots really quick and allow your D to get it to you, get it out of their hands fast, and probably quicker than normal," Keefe said. "Recognize you'll probably get more indirect plays off the walls as opposed to tape-to-tape passes ... We just have to get connected. We have done a good job of it. We have had two pairs of all lefties for quite some time now. We managed it just fine. Let's not make it a bigger deal than we need to."

ContentId(1.2082534): Keefe admits Leafs 'in a jam' on defence as deadline looms


With the trade deadline looming on March 8, Keefe was asked how much he's talking to general manager Brad Treliving these days. 

"Tree and I talk every single day," Keefe said. "We have had those conversations all throughout the season. We are on the same page there. The deadline is coming, so those discussions are ramping up – both internally and with him on the phones and such. He is doing all he can to try to help our team while recognizing, at the same time, that the team has played really well and done a good job. We have seen different people step up at different times. We need to continue to do that. As a coach, my job is to maximize the group that we have. We have more than enough to be able to find ourselves through these different situations."

Treliving is on record as saying he'd like to bolster the team's blueline. With Chris Tanev now off the board, the top two right-shot defenders on TSN's trade bait list are Philadelphia's Sean Walker and Arizona's Matt Dumba

"I feel like my name's always been in the mix come deadline day, so it's something I'm used to," said Dumba. "I don't really get caught up in all the media and social media stuff, so for me it's just business as usual."

ContentId(1.2082696): Dumba tunes out rumours as deadline nears; Domi grateful to feel secure


Keefe was assessed a game misconduct by referee Garrett Rank on Tuesday. The coach had been complaining vociferously about a tripping call to Mitch Marner late in the third period. 

"It obviously motivates you," said centre Auston Matthews. "I don't know if it was really warranted or not ... but you appreciate the coach having the guys backs."

"He's got our back, and we got his back," said Domi. "As a group we love seeing him get fired up like that. It brings emotion. He was upset with what was going on and he had every right to be ... I loved it."

The NHL didn't, though. Keefe was fined $25,000 for what the league called unprofessional conduct directed at the officials. 

"There is a fine line between being a voice for the players at different times so that they don't have to be," said Keefe. "They can focus on playing. All I'll say is that my job as a coach is to really be focused on the next moment and what comes next. I don't feel like I lost control or anything the other night, but I am not focused on the right thing. My job is to be focused on the right thing. I'll be better in that area. It is a chance for me to grow and reflect on it. That is all I will say. We can move on."

The Leafs have drawn 216 penalties this season, which is tied for 21st overall. Last season, Toronto finished 17th in that category. 

ContentId(1.2082552): 'I'll be better in that area': Keefe sees ejection as chance to grow


Alex Kerfoot will play his first game back in Toronto since signing with the Coyotes in the summer. 

"Any time you come back to a place with familiar faces where you spent a lot of time, it brings a little added juice or energy to the game," the Coyotes winger said. "I'm still good friends with a lot of guys on this team."

Kerfoot lists Rielly, Matthews, Marner and Brodie as guys he's still in touch with. He was able to catch up with a bunch of old friends last week when both teams had a day off before the game in Arizona. 

"He was a very popular guy on our team," said Matthews. "We all love him a lot. It sucks to see guys go, but it's the business part of the game. Great person and somebody we all look forward to chatting with after the game. He's been playing really well this year. We're all really happy for him." 

Kerfoot, who has 25 points in 58 games this season, will likely be welcomed back on the video board during a television timeout. 

"If that happens, it happens," the 29-year-old forward said. "I'm very thankful to them. I would be thankful regardless of if it happened or not. It's not something I need by any means. I'm not looking for that at all."

Kerfoot had a couple conversations with Treliving before hitting the market, but it "didn't progress to anything tangible."

Acquired by the Leafs in a deal that saw Nazem Kadri shipped to Colorado, Kerfoot spent four seasons in Toronto. He scored an overtime winner during last year's playoff series win over the Tampa Bay Lightning

"Being a Leaf was awesome," Kerfoot said. "I tell everyone. This is an Original Six franchise, really the centre of the hockey worked, and I loved playing here. Loved being part of the organization and have nothing but good things to say about it."

ContentId(1.2082691): Kerfoot feels 'added juice' in Toronto return; Matthews: 'We all love him'


Matthews has been held without a goal in consecutive games for the first time since Jan. 13-14. 

What's the key to getting back on track after Tuesday's loss to the Knights? 

"Just getting back on the right page," said Matthews, who fired two shots on net against Vegas. "I think there were a lot of really good things we did throughout the start of the game. I think later in the back half just little mental mistakes that they capitalized on, and the game got away from us. We've been playing good hockey of late. You lose one and you want to come and bounce back and have a good effort so it will be a good opportunity for us tonight."

Matthews leads the NHL with 52 goals. He hasn't gone three straight games without lighting the lamp since late November. 

"When you have confidence you can do anything you want, and he's the most confident guy I think I've ever played with," said Domi. "Any time he goes on the ice, not just him, but every guy on that bench believes we can score." 

Matthews scored twice in a win over the Coyotes last week. 

"He's as professional a player as I've been around in just how he kind of maintains calm and composes himself in all situations," said Kerfoot.

ContentId(1.2082699): Leafs' Matthews translates confidence into consistency


Prior to the game against Vegas, Keefe was asked to assess the line of Domi between Tyler Bertuzzi and William Nylander

"They've scored us some big goals," Keefe told TSN. "They've put lots of pressure on the opposition. There are still things there defensively that we have to continue to work with them on ... the chemistry with the defensive zone coverage especially. Frankly, that's probably always going to be a challenge with those guys in that group, but we need to make sure they can get as organized as possible in that area. And then, probably more importantly, just be really good on the offensive side and be responsible with their line changes."

Bertuzzi scored against the Knights, but the Domi line was also burned for a couple goals against. 

"The best defence is playing good offence," said Domi, who fired five shots against the Knights, but finished minus-2. "Maybe a little bit more communication coming back to our own zone. All three of us can skate and when we put a lot of back pressure on the opponent then it limits the time that they spend in our zone. We can close in quickly and that way we're not dragging shifts out and in our own end and getting gassed like that. There's a few things we can clean up, but we're heading in the right direction and doing some good s—t back there."

"The offensive side has been great and defensively I think they've gotten a lot better as well," said Matthews. "Those guys have different attributes that kind of complement all three of them really well. They move the puck really well as a line. Dom’s being a great distributor the way he is and Willy being able to handle the puck and Bert's ability down low and in front of the net, so they all read off each other really well and have been playing really well and creating a lot of good offensive chances."  

The chemistry is evident off the ice. Bertuzzi produced a hat trick on Saturday in Colorado where he was celebrating his 29th birthday. Domi sang him the birthday song as the pair walked to the plane after the game. 

"Me and Bert are so close now," Domi explained with a smile. "He hates attention and I just wanted to spotlight him a little bit there. He had such a big day and obviously his birthday. Like, most guys didn't even know it was his birthday, myself included, until closer to the game because he's not that guy. He doesn't want that kind of attention, which I respect so much, and he's super low key, just a normal, humble dude. Singing 'Happy Birthday' on the tarmac on the way to plane was something [where] he couldn't shy away from the camera there, so we had some fun with it. That's just little things we do around to enjoy our long season." 

ContentId(1.2082557): Domi on digging in defensively, singing to Bertuzzi


The Coyotes have not tasted victory since Jan. 22. 

"We're in a stretch right now where everything seems like it's the end of the world," said Kerfoot. "But I still believe in this group, think that this team is a team that's on the rise." 

"I'm not going to lie, it's not easy," said Dumba. "But, in these last couple games, I thought we've come close. We've played pretty hard, stingy games and just had a couple bounces that went against us and that adds to the frustration. But you got to reset each day and wake up and get back to it, because no one else out there is feeling sorry for us."   

How is Andre Tourigny keeping spirits up during this 0-11-2 skid? 

"We're in the best league in the world," the Coyotes coach said. "We do the best job in the world. We're privileged. There's millions and millions if not billions of people, who want to be in our spot. If that doesn't put a smile on your face when you show up at the rink, you're in the wrong business. I'm one of the luckiest guys in the world. I'm one of the 32. That's how I approach every day. I cannot wait for the sun to come up so I can go to work. That's the way I am and that's the attitude I want to bring to our team. I never felt in that room that there's anybody who feels sorry for themselves. They're fighting. The attitude of our guys is unbelievable. I have a ton of respect for them, the way they fight and show up every day in a tough stretch."

The Coyotes have picked up a point in their last 12 games in Toronto (10-0-2). Arizona hasn't lost in regulation in Toronto since 2002. 

"Doesn't matter," said Domi, an ex-Coyote who was a part of two of those wins by Arizona in Toronto. "We just played them last week so we're super familiar with what they can bring. They got a good team, a lot of skill. They've been struggling a little bit lately so there's going to be some hunger there and we got to come out of the gates flying, ready to go. It will be a good test and a bounce back from last game." 

Clayton Keller remains out for the Coyotes, who will start Connor Ingram in net. 

ContentId(1.2082700): Leafs Ice Chips: Curse of the Coyotes


Lines at Leafs skate: 


Knies - Matthews - Marner

Bertuzzi - Domi - Nylander

McMann - Tavares - Robertson

Holmberg - Kampf - Reaves

Gregor, Jarnkrok 


Rielly - Brodie

Benoit - McCabe 

Giordano - Lagesson



Woll starts