Toronto Maple Leafs head coach Sheldon Keefe has taken a unique approach to scouting opponents this season.
With just six different teams to play against instead of the usual 30 in a typical regular season, Keefe has assigned a different member of his coaching staff to a specific club to scout.
Manny Malhotra, who served as a Vancouver Canucks assistant coach before joining the Maple Leafs in September, has been assigned to his former employer.
"Vancouver was the obvious one," Keefe said of Malhotra. "It certainly helps us, but the puck is going to be dropped and then that stuff doesn't matter too much when that happens."
Malhotra is credited with leading the Maple Leafs to a league-best power play at 43.3 percent.
"He's very precise," Wayne Simmonds said of Malhotra. "You know the game plan and what you want to do and he's detail-oriented. I think that has helped us out a lot."
Toronto's power play has propelled the team to a 7-2-1 record. There aren't too many categories where the Canucks (6-7-2) excel past Toronto.
But there are a few.
The Canucks have averaged 3.44 even-strength goals per game. That is third-best in the league compared to 2.32 by Toronto (19th in the NHL). Per Sportlogiq, Vancouver ranks fifth in the league in even-strength faceoffs won resulting in a shot on net at 30.3 percent. Toronto is 27th in that category at 17.1 percent.
The Canucks have the 12th-best penalty kill at 80.4 percent, while the Maple Leafs ranked 23rd at 76.9 percent. At practice, the Leafs brought out a TV that showed the Canucks power-play unit and some of their techniques in a game against the Ottawa Senators.
"Sometimes you forget stuff that you miss in video from earlier," Travis Dermott said. "Having a video reference out there while we were out there."
Per Sportlogiq, the Canucks lead the NHL in power-play passes in the slot per game at 2.75 and the video footage here is perhaps Toronto's penalty kill working on applying pressure to opposing players down low.
The insight is excellent. Unfortunately, it appears to be a one-time thing.
"It's something I did a lot with the Marlies while I was there," Keefe said of the video usage. "It's something I think we would do a lot more frequently perhaps if you media folks agreed to turn the cameras off for us, but I don't think that's going to happen so you probably won't see the TV."
Alex Kerfoot was a full participant at practice on Wednesday. He missed Tuesday's session with an injury Keefe likened to what Auston Matthews went through earlier in this season (hand). Kerfoot reclaimed his spot as the team's third-line centre with Jimmy Vesey and Ilya Mikheyey.
Pierre Engvall, who skated in Kerfoot's spot on Tuesday, was bumped to a taxi-squad jersey.
"I think part of the opportunity that he has gotten hasn't fully allowed him to show what he can do," Keefe said of Engvall. "But at the same time, there are a lot of players in here that are in his position that didn't start with the team that are trying to find their way and he's one of those guys.
Engvall has one assist in four games this season.
Simmonds sticks with the second line
Although warned that the practice lines on Tuesday may not stick, Simmonds was on a line once against with John Tavares and William Nylander for the second consecutive day of practice.
With three goals this season, Simmonds could be set to better his season-high 13:24 of ice time in the Leafs 4-3 OT loss against the Edmonton Oilers on Saturday.
"I think we want to create a little more offense," Simmonds said. "We got to work to get to the inside of their rink and get the pucks off the walls. I think that's what we've worked on the last few days here."