Sheldon Keefe experiments with a new potential playoff shutdown D pair

Mike Armenti
April 12, 2024  (8:28)

Sheldon Keefe speaks with the media post-game
Photo credit: NHL

The Toronto Maple Leafs are inching their way towards being fully healthy in time for the playoffs. Thursday evening's game against the New Jersey Devils may have been an opportunity for Sheldon Keefe to test out a new third pair.

With the Devils traveling to Toronto on Thursday, following a 5-2 defeat at the hands of the Leafs on Tuesday evening, rather than Sheldon Keefe rolling back the same group that he had success with on Tuesday, the Leafs' bench boss made a number of changes to the lineup. Among those changes was re-introducing Joel Edmundson to the lineup after the veteran defenseman missed 8 games with an unspecified injury.
Edmundson had previously been playing alongside Timothy Liljegren on the Leafs' third pair prior to both players missing time due to injury. However, with Liljegren unavailable for Thursday's game against the Devils, Keefe opted to play Edmundson with one of his more reliable defensemen in T.J. Brodie in a move that Sportsnet's Luke Fox suggested might be designed to see if they could act as a strong shutdown pairing in the playoffs.
Unfortunately for the Leafs, a sloppy 6-5 loss to the Devils didn't provide much of an opportunity for Keefe and the coaching staff to get a good read on the Edmundson-Brodie tandem, who both finished as a -1 on the night. Brodie put up one shot on goal, 1 hit and 2 blocked shots on the night, but didn't look particularly comfortable with his new D partner. On the other side of the ice, Edmundson contributed 5 hits and 3 blocked shots to the equation, but looked a step behind, pace-wise, in his first game back and took himself out of position a couple of times to finish a hit.
The Leafs have just 3 games remaining in the season at this point, so it does seem to be a little too late in the year to be experimenting. Instead, I'm sure people would much prefer to see Keefe stick with pairings that he knows will mesh better with one another and who have some pre-existing chemistry. Still, with Edmundson and Brodie both being solid defensively in their own right and with both being savvy veterans who have a good amount of playoff experience, perhaps there is still time for this pairing to form some chemistry with one another over the final 3 games of the season and prove themselves to be a capable shutdown pairing for the Leafs when their series against the Panthers commences in just over one week's time.
Sheldon Keefe has shown himself to not be shy when it comes to mixing up his lines and D pairings, so I suppose it shouldn't be surprised if we see movement on the roster right down to the wire. I'm sure he and the coaching staff have a good idea as to who will be in the lineup come Game 1. We know that Morgan Rielly and Ilya Lyubushkin are likely to be a pair. We know that Simon Benoit and Jake McCabe have a lot of chemistry with one another and could serve as the team's 2nd pair. Where it gets tricky is on that third pair. Brodie has played some of the season with Jake McCabe, so there's definite potential for him to be on the playoff roster for Game 1, which would bump Benoit out. However, there's also a possibility that the Leafs will opt to have Liljegren, another right shot, in the lineup, with Brodie acting as the team's 7th defenseman.
The most likely scenario, if we look back to the Leafs' D pairs following the trade deadline, is that Edmundson will be back with Liljegren to begin the playoffs, provided he is healthy enough to sneak in a couple of games this week. Keefe does like to have as many right shots on the blueline as he can, so Liljegren does have the advantage over Brodie or Benoit in that sense. Some interesting decisions lie ahead.
12 AVRIL   |   358 ANSWERS
Sheldon Keefe experiments with a new potential playoff shutdown D pair

Who would you pair with Joel Edmundson on the Leafs' third pair to open the playoffs?

Timothy Liljegren12534.9 %
T.J. Brodie5114.2 %
Simon Benoit15643.6 %
Other267.3 %
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