Sheldon Keefe shakes up Leafs forward lines for Sharks; Erik Kallgren starts in net

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SUMMERLIN, Nev. — Sheldon Keefe digs deeper into the deck to change his roster cards.

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The Maple Leafs coach not only gave first lines Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner a new left winger for Thursday’s game against the Sharks, but he also changed his mind to address concerns after a lackluster loss in Las Vegas Monday.

Alex Kerfoot will join Matthews and Marner, each with just one goal this season. Kerfoot’s role at third line center goes to Calle Jarnkrok, joined on the left by Matthews regular port Michael Bunting and Denis Malgin, who has not been seen since Nick Robertson took on his second line role.

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The fourth line was also scrambled, in part because Kyle Clifford entered injured reserve Tuesday night with shoulder injuries.

Keefe also sits his bash brother, Wayne Simmonds, in San Jose and refits the unit in an effort to get Pierre Engvall started. Engvall reunites with center David Kampf and Zach Aston-Reese, who is back from the brush. Nicolas Aube-Kubel remains a healthy scratch.

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« Obviously we didn’t score and on top of that we didn’t control the game as we would like, especially from our last six, » Keefe said on Wednesday after training in the suburb of Vegas. « So we’re looking to get a different look, a different balance there.

“Having Bunting on that line should provide additional opportunities on offense, especially if you put Malgin there as well. We are looking to get a bit more out of this group and at the same time I wanted to give Kerfoot a look on the wing. It gives us a bit of both and we keep the (John) Tavares line (with William Nylander and Robertson) intact.

Kerfoot acknowledged the unusual optics of his arrival to help defending Rocket Trophy winner Richard Matthews and fellow All-Star Marner.

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« Auston is nothing to worry about, » Kerfoot said with a smile. “He will be fine. Like we said, even when he’s not scoring he’s one of the most complete players in the league and he impacted the game at all times. He will start scoring soon.

Matthews had just one game-breaking goal in seven games, while Marner’s came in a losing cause against Arizona.

The versatile Kerfoot has already been featured on a line with them.

« It’s a good opportunity to play more, » Kerfoot said of the personal benefits of this promotion. « These guys also get the toughest minutes every night, but they’re two of the best in the league. It’s just about giving them the puck as much as possible, working hard and using my speed. »

Kerfoot has one goal and one assist in seven games so far, not counting the tied count against Arizona that was nullified by a handball pass.

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Matthews draws on his previous experiences of going through an October slump.

« I’m not sure this is a super unusual situation, » he insisted. “I just approach (that dry streak) kind of the same way, get to work, have fun, shoot the puck. Once one of them comes in, I hope I will have the wind in my sails, that I will regain that confidence.

“Alex is very easy to play, skates well, sees the ice. We have a good feeling for each other. He gives you the puck and we want it as much as possible. He does a good job of opening up, very intelligent, very cerebral.

Keefe wants more of Engvall, who often doesn’t fully utilize his height. Sitting the big Swede earlier on this five-game trip didn’t have the desired effect in the Vegas game and the hope is that Kampf will be the tonic.

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« Really, we were two lines generating the (scoring) chances for us, » Keefe said. “We need to get more from the 3 and 4 lines, control the game, generate their own chances, stretch the opposition a bit more.

“We talked about having this flexibility (of additional players on this trip) to keep the competition going. I don’t think anyone has really grasped it yet.

« We’re always looking for things to fall into place. »

Another change on Thursday will be in the net. Rather than wait for the back-to-back weekend against Los Angeles and Anaheim Keefe starting Erik Kallgren on Thursday, it’s not the first time a Sharks foe has gone for No. 2 on perceived winning terms.

Defender Filip Kral is also on the road after being called up in concert with the announcement of Clifford and the move of Jake Muzzin from the IR to the long-term roster to open up even more space after goalkeeper Matt Murray sidelined for a month with a groin problem. Keefe hinted that Kral could make his NHL debut this weekend.

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After all that pain in Monday’s game, John Tavares could laugh at his exit and the scare it gave Rasmus Sandin.

Hit by teammate Sandin’s explosion on an unpadded part of his left knee, the captain was down and needed help getting to the bench.

Doctors told Tavares that the puck hit a nerve, which is why it was impossible to put weight on the leg until he walked into the room, removed it and then returned to play in the final minutes of the 3-1 loss to the Golden Knights.

“Sandy has done it all,” Tavares said after practice Wednesday. “He said he was sorry, but he has nothing to regret, he’s just trying to put the puck in the net.

« Part of the game and put me in a difficult situation. »

Tavares said he felt a bit stiff on Wednesday, but the extra day off in Las Vegas helped him recover a few more Leafs after bruising in the first two of the five-game trip.

Tavares is the team’s leading scorer with eight points in seven games.

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