TEMPE, AZ – Fine.
As in, Morgan Rielly is finally feeling it.
As in, the Toronto Maple Leafs and Sheldon Keefe must reluctantly pay it.
The Maple Leafs’ dress rehearsal at Arizona State University’s intimate Mullett Arena was punctuated with good news and bad news Wednesday.
Let’s start with the positive.
After being sidelined for 38 days with a knee injury, Rielly is poised to make his return to action Thursday versus the Coyotes.
“It’s been a long process, feels like,” Rielly said of his recovery from his accidental collision with the Islanders’ Kyle Palmieri back in November. “Just bad luck.
“I’m happy to be back with the boys.”
The boys have been on an absolute tear in the absence of their top minute-muncher, rolling out a ridiculous 12-2-1 record without their best and longest-serving defenceman.
“They’ve been playing outstanding, and it’s been a pleasure to watch. Guys have accepted more responsibility within their roles and played extremely well. As a teammate of theirs, you’re extremely proud of it,” said Rielly, making special note of Timothy Liljegren and Rasmus Sandin’s response to tougher assignments.
“That’s a positive that occasionally comes out of these situations.”
Provided his body responds well to Wednesday’s practice, Rielly will slide to the left of Liljegren, bumping depth defenceman Jordie Benn to the press box.
Rielly also occupied Conor Timmins’ spot, quarterbacking the second power-play unit, as Keefe appears to be sticking with his five-forward setup on PP1.
Both Keefe and the NHL disciplinary department came out of the break hot.
The league slapped the Maple Leafs with a $100,000 fine for travelling too early to St. Louis on Dec. 26 for their Dec. 27 game and violating Article 16.5(b) of the Collective Bargaining Agreement.
The team arrived in St. Louis late the night prior to Tuesday’s 5-4 overtime victory to sleep instead of travelling on game day so it could participate in a full morning skate and gear up for the game.
The Philadelphia Flyers were fined the same amount by the league in 2014 for getting a similar jump on travel coming out of the Christmas break.
Keefe was dinged $25,000 for “demeaning conduct directed at the officials” during Tuesday’s win (Carolina coach Rod Brind’Amour was hit with a similar fine last season).
Keefe was seen blowing up at referee Wes McCauley and crew for a missed interference call as well as a missed high-sticking call when St. Louis’s Brandon Saad opened up the face of Zach Aston-Reese:
“Watching Zach Aston-Reese getting sewn up on the table after the game, it’s a little hard to take. But we’re happy with the two points,” Keefe told reporters post-game when asked about the officiating.
On Wednesday, the coach downplayed the incident.
“Listen: You get emotional in the game. You’re competing just like anyone else is,” Keefe said.
“But when the game’s over, especially when you get the two points, I don’t put too much thought or concern into any of it.”
One-Timers: Rasmus Sandin (neck) participated in practice but is not expected to play…. Dryden Hunt should finally make his Maple Leafs debut Thursday, replacing Joey Anderson on the fourth line…. Arizona trade bait Jakob Chychrun has scored more goals (three) in his 17 games played than any Toronto defenceman has in its 35 games. Lots of eyeballs on Thursday’s audition…. Matt Murray gets the nod in net.
Maple Leafs projected lineup Thursday in Arizona
Bunting – Matthews – Nylander
Järnkrok – Tavares – Marner
Kerfoot – Kämpf – Engvall
Aston-Reese – Hölmberg – Hunt
Giordano – Holl
Rielly – Liljegren
Brodie – Timmins