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Maple Leafs coach Sheldon Keefe has some issues to iron out before the playoffs

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Photo credit:Steven Ellis/Daily Faceoff
Shane Seney
28 days ago
The Toronto Maple Leafs have just 15 games left in the regular season and they aren’t anywhere near ready for the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Head coach Sheldon Keefe should be feeling the pressure, even though he’s fresh off a contract extension. Keefe has been getting in his own way lately and it needs to change.
The Maple Leafs couldn’t catch a break against the Philadelphia Flyers on Tuesday night and not every negative aspect of the game was on Keefe. He’s not out there hitting posts every other shot. But what he does have control over is who he’s playing together and someone needs to find this guy in the media scrum and inform him that TJ Brodie is a step behind and shouldn’t ever be paired with Morgan Rielly. Truthfully, shouldn’t even be dressing for that matter once Ilya Lyubushkin is back from his illness.
Brodie is someone Brad Treliving tried to trade from Calgary for Nazem Kadri, maybe the GM saw something years ago leading up to this demise. The Chatham, Ontario native is one of the nicest guys in the NHL, but in this case, nice guys are finishing last.  Brodie’s lost a step and it was exposed in a major way against the Flyers. He’s constantly losing his man on the rush, he’s making some horrible decisions with the puck, and for being a one-time shut-down defender, he’s nowhere near that hemisphere anymore as he’s leading the Leafs in expected goals against and it’s not even close – not exactly the category you want to be at the top of.

Marner/Jarnkrok’s Injuries Hurt

Having Mitch Marner and Calle Jarnkrok go down with injuries this late in the season was horrible timing. Keefe should be finding lines that work right now so they can play together for the final 15 games and build some serious chemistry heading into the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Instead, Marner’s down, the Leafs are experimenting all over the place and there are a few forwards who are currently playing ‘up’ on lines that shouldn’t be.
This isn’t necessarily Keefe’s fault, but it’s something to monitor heading into the postseason. Time and space are minimized in the playoffs and the smallest mistake can be the most costly. It’s so important to have chemistry and confidence in your linemates and be able to read exactly what they’re going to do with the puck and which open areas of the ice they are looking to occupy. Ideally, Keefe could be able to roll his exact Game 1 playoff lineup for the next 3 weeks and get everyone comfortable in their role, but that’s not going to be the case at all. It’s unfortunate because several teams will be able to do so and it’s only going to help them prepare. The same can’t be said in Toronto.
Keefe loves to tinker with his lineup, but ideally, it doesn’t become a storyline which ends up influencing Treliving’s decision-making this upcoming offseason. I’ve always been a fan of Keefe’s, I have followed his hockey career for over 25 years and I feel like he’s a strong NHL coach. He’s just not showing it lately.
Simon Benoit should have never come out of the lineup and Keefe sent the wrong message there. Benoit’s been a bright spot for the Maple Leafs, but he missed the boat not sitting Brodie instead. If Joel Edmundson plays as bad as he played against the Flyers down the stretch, there’s going to be even bigger problems on Keefe’s plate. The team has some questions to answer before the end of the season, and it’s not going to be easy.
The Maple Leafs are stuck in their playoff position, which could actually be a bad thing for the team. Maybe they’d be better off having more of a playoff mentality these last 15 games and had to get into the mindset early. That’s how things went for the Florida Panthers last year, and it played a part in their first trip to the Stanley Cup Finals since 1995-96. Instead, they know they are in and the only question left to answer is if it’s going to be the Bruins or Panthers.
Nevertheless, there’s a ton of pressure sitting on Keefe’s lap right now. Marner is going to be on the first line with Matthews, so Keefe should make sure that these next 15 games, whoever is going to play left wing, is out there with Matthews every game until Marner returns. The same can be said for Jarnkrok. He’s going to be third-line right-wing, so whoever the other two linemates are for Game 1, make sure they are playing together from here on out until Jarnkrok returns. Enough with the lineup tinkering, enough with the experimenting, and enough of Brodie playing with Rielly, or at all for that matter.

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