Sheldon Keefe deserves much of the blame for Justin Holl’s series

Photo credit:Tom Horak-USA TODAY Sports
Jon Steitzer
1 year ago
What the Holl?
One of the advantages the Leafs were supposed to have coming into the playoffs was the fact that Toronto was nine NHL defensemen deep. I mean you could also throw Jordie Benn and Victor Mete into that mix and say they are 11 NHL defensemen deep, but most accurately the Leafs have 9 defensemen that you could put into their lineup and not feel too bad about it. If anyone was hurt or underperforming the move to the next player on the list should be pretty seamless. That’s what makes the Holl situation so damned confusing right now.
Here’s the thing about that number. It’s not something where you can just say that Holl had a rough Game 5. It’s not something where Holl has just had a couple of rough games. 14-2 is an absolutely abysmal series. And the signs were there from the beginning that Holl needed to come out. He was on the ice for 2 5v5 goals against in Game 1, and another 4 goals were scored while he was on the ice penalty killing. That is an out of the world bad performance and both Timothy Liljegren and Erik Gustafsson are right there and perfectly healthy to step in and replace him at that point.
It would be something if we were talking about Holl bouncing back in Game 2, the Leafs strongest game of the series, but he had another goal against in that game and wasn’t on the ice for a goal for. You can point to Game 3 as his best outing of the series when he managed a 50% GF% being on the ice for one for and one against as his best outing, but there isn’t much if anything that Holl has brought to the table and the eye test seems somehow even worse than the numbers.
Holl 5v5
On Ice Sv%74.55
Over that time Holl has taken three penalties including his fighting major, picked up one assist, and has 12 hits (which for context has him third amongst Leafs defensemen in hits, but he only has three more hits than either Brodie or Rielly and is far off the pace of Schenn and McCabe.)
There really isn’t any reason for Holl to be in there, especially when Timothy Liljegren has actually thrived against Tampa Bay over the last three seasons.
The thing is, Giordano’s numbers haven’t been great, but they are noticeably better than Holl’s when he’s managed to be away from him. Using goal splits as a measuring stick, Giordano has managed to be on the ice for 4 more goals for the Leafs and 5 fewer goals against the Leafs. That doesn’t seem like that pairing needs to be better as much as it is on one guy.
GiordanoWith HollWithout
Giordano is obviously banged up after the last game and you could make a case for putting Gustafsson and Liljegren in together as they’ve been playing and practicing together of late, but hanging this on Giordano is either a lie or foolishness.
To some extent this is Keefe both telling on himself and Holl in this situation and while Holl isn’t out there alone and maybe he’s not the first person you’d hang all 14 of those goals on, the evidence supports that he is making his defensive partner worse, he’s making the forwards that he plays with worse, and the Lightning are having an easier time against him. So no, he’s not out there alone, but maybe the guy who has been out there for 70% of the Leafs goals against is at least part of the problem, and given that he’s only been out there for 9.5% of the goals for, he doesn’t look like he’s making a case as the solution either.
Understandably Keefe is sensitive when it comes to Holl because this is a situational monster of his own making. Holl has been on the ice against Stamkos, Point, and Kucherov more than any other Tampa forwards. They’ve hung six goals on Holl. While you can point to Holl not fairing much better against the second or third lines either, the fact that either Cooper is getting this preferable matchup or Keefe is content to have Giordano and Holl out there against the top unit should be hung on him as much as it is on Holl.
So all of this should be leading everyone to the easiest choice the coach should have to make and that is to keep Holl out of the rest of the Lightning series. This should have been an easy decision after Game 1, but the good news is that Keefe can make the same decision after Game 5 and still hopefully get out of this round.
It’s not a matter of saying that Holl is done for the playoffs either. He could prove to be the better option against Boston if Toronto gets there. This season he was playing an average of 20 minutes a night against them, maybe he’s a fit in that series. He just shouldn’t be in the Tampa series and that is on Keefe for not dealing with it sooner.
Data sourced from Natural Stat Trick

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