Just what did Sheldon Keefe think? Mixing the lines. Use Jason Spezza first in a shootout. Call a countdown time during a power play. If one thing is certain, the Maple Leafs coach does nothing without first thinking it through.

And Wednesday night’s 4-3 shootout victory over the Anaheim Ducks was a window into his mind and how he thinks – and maybe even thinks about – the game.

Let’s start at the end.

Keefe chose to let Spezza shoot first. Keefe has a lot of firepower on the bench, six players with more goals than Spezza’s seven. Keefe knew Spezza had a success rate of 37.2 percent at all times with 29 goals on 78 shots. It is the 33rd of all time among players to have taken at least 50 shots in the shootout.

But there was another reason to go with Spezza first. He did not play at all in the 3-on-3 overtime.

“Auston Matthews and William Nylander are second and third shooters,” Keefe said. “Those guys can use a little extra respite that comes from the out (the overtime). So Spezza goes first, I like that. He sets the table for us. He did a great job. “

Spezza scored, just like Matthews, and the Leafs won. The plan worked.

Let’s talk about the lines now. Keefe changed them all this week, spreading Matthews, Nylander, Mitch Marner and John Tavares – the famous core four – across three lines, instead of two.

At 5-on-5, the Leafs were outscored 3-0. Marner, Nylander and Tavares were each minus-2. Morgan Rielly was minus-3.

So, on the face of it, the plan did not seem to work. But one of those minuses – Rielly’s extra one – was an own goal. Another came at the end of the showdown when the group was gassed, and caught flatfooted. Both were more about puck luck. Only Vinni Lettieri’s equalizer was the result of Anaheim actually defeating the Maple Leafs, a rarity Wednesday.

At 5-on-5, the Leafs owned the shooter 60 percent of the time, according to naturalstattle.com. No matter the shot clock (44-20 in the Leafs favor), the Leafs had 13 high-risk chances to six through the Ducks.

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And that worry about Nylander’s ice age falling? Well, undoubtedly helped by power play time and overtime, but Nylander played 20:54, third against Matthews (23:02) and Marner (22:48) with Tavares coming in right behind at 20:38.

Keefe largely kept the lines together, but on occasion Matthews double-moved with Nylander and Alex Kerfoot, and Nylander double-moved with Tavares and Marner. And of course, after the Maple Leafs killed a penalty kick, Tavares and Matthews typically played the next inning together.

“It worked out the way I thought it would, and I liked it,” Keefe said. “As far as the chemistry of the group and the flow are concerned, it will take a while. We can not judge it in one game. “

So that means more games will come with this alignment. And with the Leafs sitting safely in a playoff halfway through the season, who is to argue.

As for that time-out, he cried, during a showdown, well, maybe that’s where thinking got thoughtful. Undoubtedly, the top power play unit had been hot. It scored twice in the first period, and had just hit a 5-on-3 again, with about a minute left in the 5-on-4 late in the second period. The Leafs were 3-1 ahead, and a fourth goal would be the dagger.

Instead of putting out the second power play unit, Keefe called a time-out to give the top group rest. It seemed like it could work, they generated some chances. But they overplayed it. With 10 seconds left in the penalty kick, Jack Campbell was hitting his stick on the ice – a warning that the penalty kick was almost over.

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The five players on the top unit continued their onslaught. All four forwards were around the Anaheim field when the shooter jumped to Sam Carrick just as Jakob Silfverberg came out of the box. The Ducks paired a 3-on-1, Silfverberg. Now the Ducks had life on their way to the third.

Keefe owned the fault. That first power play unit is usually not out after the expiration of a penalty kick, and is not used to pulling back at the sound of a goalie’s tap. Keefe said he forgot to remind them.

“You have to get a line change towards the end there, but it’s something the second unit is used to and they get off the ice before something like this happens,” Keefe said. “And I failed to point it out to our guys to be aware of that. So it’s up to me. ”

As players like to say, it’s the “little things” that make a difference in the game. Keefe thought them through, and in general it worked out.


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