Injuries, not poor play, force struggling John Klingberg to sideline, Leafs coach Sheldon Keefe says

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If you were among those thinking that John Klingberg should be taken out of the Maple Leafs lineup, you will get your wish on Friday night.

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Leafs coach Sheldon Keefe put a twist, however, on why Klingberg won’t be playing against the Calgary Flames in the Hall of Fame game at Scotiabank Arena.

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As much as Klingberg struggled through his first 13 games with Toronto after signing a one-year contract in the summer, it’s because of “injuries,” Keefe said, that the veteran won’t be in the lineup.

“Klingberg has been working through some injuries here the last little bit, so today is a chance for us give him some time to work through that and will have a better sense of where he is at tomorrow,” Keefe said after the Leafs’ optional morning skate. 

How long has Klingberg, who missed time in the pre-season because of an upper-body injury, been playing through injuries?

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“Quite a while,” Keefe said. “Nothing that has kept him out, but it’s something we want to give him an opportunity to work through and have a better sense of exactly what’s going on.”

Klingberg has five assists, is minus-8 — only fellow newcomer Ryan Reaves, at minus-9, is worse among Leafs — and has not brought the kind of offensive punch from the blue line that the Leafs thought he would. His defensive issues shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone, as he was not good in that area before he came to Toronto.

Still, Keefe says the undisclosed ailments have impacted Klingberg’s game.

“We think so,” Keefe said. “It certainly hasn’t helped him. It’s part of what I talked about the other night about protecting him better, it’s part about our team play and the other guys on the ice, but it’s also just knowing what he has been working through and trying to help him with that.”

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The Leafs will have defenceman Jake McCabe back in the lineup. He missed the past six games with a groin injury, but is good go. With McCabe back and Klingberg out, the Leafs will use six left-shooting defencemen. Not ideal, but there is little choice.

Joseph Woll will start in goal for the Leafs. Dan Vladar will be in the Flames’ net.

There are larger areas of concern for the Leafs, of course. They’ve allowed at least four goals in all seven of their home games and barely are hanging on to the second wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference. 

A loss against the Flames, and another one against the visiting Vancouver Canucks on Saturday, undoubtedly would increase the chances that Keefe loses his job before the club packs up and heads to Sweden for two games next week.

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It wouldn’t be a reach for general manager Brad Treliving to promote assistant coach Guy Boucher, even on an interim basis, if Keefe is let go.

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

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Keefe is grasping at the notion that the Leafs have been playing better hockey, choosing to ignore the fact they’ve allowed 17 goals in the first three games of their five-game home stand. It’s not just because of bad goaltending, no matter what is being said.

“When I say we’re trending up and you look at the amount of goals we’ve given up, it doesn’t sound like it makes much sense,” Keefe said. “But when you go through the video and you go through the stats, if you look at what we’ve given up in the last two games defensively, if those two games were what we’ve done all season, we would have the No. 4 defensive team in terms of scoring chances against. 

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“When our attention to detail is consistent shift-to-shift and we don’t have the big lapses and then that play is matched with solid goaltending, this is going to flip and the puck is going to stay out of our net and our team is going to get rolling. 

“We’re just going to continue to focus on that and minimize our mistakes and try to recognize through some of the chaos that’s been going on with what we’ve had with pucks going in our net, that there are good things happening. And the model of what we’ve been in the past is not as far away as it may seem.”

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The projected Leafs lineup for Friday night


Matthew Knies-Auston Matthews-Mitch Marner

Tyler Bertuzzi-John Tavares-William Nylander

Nick Robertson-Max Domi-Calle Jarnkrok

Noah Gregor-David Kampf-Ryan Reaves


Morgan Rielly-TJ Brodie

Mark Giordano-Jake McCabe

Simon Benoit-William Lagesson


Joseph Woll

Ilya Samsonov

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