Sheldon Keefe announces his locks on defense; two spots up for grabs

Published April 14, 2022 at 1:35 PM
BY JOSHUA MALLAIS
According to Leafs Coach Sheldon Keefe, Justin Holl will be scratched for tonight's game against the Washington Capitals. This comes after comments mentioning that there is competition for the final two RD slots for opening game of the playoffs.

All four lefties on the Leafs' blueline (Rielly, Brodie, Giordano, Muzzin) are considered "locks" for Game 1 of the playoffs, leaving two spots left for the Leafs right-shot blueliners to battle it out.

Many Leafs fans have been enamored with Ilya Lyubushkin and Timothy Liljegren and are hoping that those two are the ones to claim those final RD slots over Justin Holl, who has struggled at times this year.

In 62 games, Justin Holl has put up 19 points with a variety of partners. However, he has been less effective than he was during his first two years with the Leafs. He's been passed in the mind of many Leafs' fans, but still appears to have the confidence of the coaching staff as he plays extensively on the PK and in tough defensive minutes.


Ilya Lyubushkin in 22 games with the Leafs has 1 assist and is a +2. He has been deployed in a defensive role, mostly alongside Morgan Rielly of late. He's been a revelation for a Leafs' blueline that has been accused of being soft for years. His physical play has sparked praise from the Leafs coaching staff and spurred on physical play from other players.

Timothy Liljegren has put up 21 points in 53 games, and 3 goals in his last 5 games. As well, his recent pairing with Mark Giordano has proven to be one of the Leafs' best in the games they've played together. Playing with the older Giordano seems to have rubbed off on the young man, with Liljegren playing the best hockey of his young career. His hot play as of late has thrust him above Justin Holl in the mind of most Leafs' fans, making the Leafs' D corps especially crowded for the last two spots.

Sheldon Keefe had this to say about the competition for the opening playoff lineup:

The way we look at it, we have four left-handed shots that I think are real staples for us on the back end and that leaves two available spots (on the right side). We like what each of them (on the right side) bring. Hollsy in particular, certainly of all the right shots but amongst any of our defence has probably played as difficult a minutes as any. Other than Rielly and Brodie for most of the season, Hollsy is right there. He's played on the penalty kill, which has vastly improved this season. He played on defence on the PK more than any guy we have. So he brings great value to us there. Yet you look at what Lyubushkin has brought and his physicality and the way he kills plays and covering defensively and Liljegren, the steps that he's taking to rounding out his game. We've got some difficult decisions that are good problems for you to have as a coach and obviously from a players' standpoint as we're trying to sort through things here and these games are really important for everybody to be at their best.

No word yet as to the Leafs' decision here, but having 8 NHL caliber defenders is a good problem for Keefe an the coaching staff to have. As we all know, injuries are all but guaranteed in the playoffs, and regardless of who's in the lineup for Game 1 of the first round, odds are that we will see all 8 of the Leafs' defenders at some point in the postseason.
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