Sheldon Keefe spoke to media after practice on Friday and discussed the Pontus Aberg call-up, experimenting with new lines, what he liked and didn’t about the recent back-to-back, and getting Matthews’ production back rolling.
On implementing new things during a busy season:
As I’m learning, there are no nights off in the league. It comes at you in a hurry. if anything, we feel good about the game we’re coming off of here. We don’t like the result but there was a lot of things when you go through the video yesterday on our off day — there’s a lot of good things that we wanted to do defensively in particular. That’s a priority, of course, but we want to make sure we combine it with the offensive piece and put it all together.
On calling up Pontus Aberg after Andreas Johnsson’s injury:
The biggest thing is that he’s played in the league and had success in the league, scored in the league before. He’s played with good players before. Obviously, me coaching him in the AHL, I’ve seen what he’s capable of doing at that level and when he’s playing at his best, so we’re going to give him an opportunity here to show that he can belong.
He’s got a great skill-set and he’s really good with the puck. He’s able to carry it, make a play, shoot, score — but then also he can skate really well. Some of our defensive clips when it comes to earning the puck back, when I was with the Marlies, he was leading the way in that sense. We need him to do it every shift. He’s not going to play as much as he did with the Marlies so he’s going to have to find a way to impact the game. He’ll get a chance to do it with good players.
On how long it takes a team to get comfortable with new systems:
I don’t think you can say there’s a certain timeline where you’d say, “now it’s gonna click“. Each situation is different, each player is different — they’re going to grasp it in their own time. The schedule’s a factor — it’s a lot different here than it is in the OHL when you get three, four days leading up to a game. Those factors are all at play. Like I said, when I look back at our game defensively, which is an area we’ve spent a lot of time on, we thought the last game that we played was our best game and that’s coming off a back-to-back situation against a rested team that is one of the most high powered in the league. We really like what we did in that game there. It showed that it clicked.
On Auston Matthews’ recent dip in production:
A lot of attention is being put on the fact that he hasn’t produced to the level we would expect or that he would expect. I’m not so focused on that, I go back and I watch all the scoring chances he’s created every game. For me, the puck goes half an inch one way or half an inch the other, it doesn’t hit the goalie’s shoulder, it doesn’t chip the edge of his pad, then it goes in and all of a sudden the narrative’s completely different, so I don’t get too focused on that. He’s in the scoring chances, he’s around the net, and he’s shooting from dangerous areas. We’d like to find him ways to get more of those chances, but the chances are there and that’s fine. We just want to make sure, much like the rest of our team, that we’re good in all the other areas of the game that you can manage shift to shift.
On the proposed Hyman-Kerfoot-Kapanen shutdown line:
I thought it wasn’t very good in the first game — I thought it was our best line in Colorado. I thought it was excellent and it showed that the three of them can work well together so that’s very positive for us. As we look ahead to the road trip here, we wanted to put Hyman back with Tavares and Marner to see what we can get with that line getting back together. Now that we have a sense of what [Hyman-Kerfoot-Kapanen] is like, we know that can work really well for us at any time. Those three have confidence in each other so I kind of got what I wanted out of that. Now we got the ability to move things around a little — we’re going to have to with Johnsson being out.
On what the team didn’t execute well on offensively vs. Philadelphia:
I just thought that we settled on the perimeter a lot. We took a lot of long-distance perimeter shots, didn’t really use the skillset that we have and the things that we were doing early on. Part of that is the opponent — they’re making it hard on us to get adjusted — but we still think there are some spots that we can be a little more engaged offensively and do some different things to help bring the skill level of our group up.
On if he’s decided on a starter for Saturday vs. St.Louis: