Sheldon Keefe addressed the media on Tuesday after the morning skate, discussing Frederik Andersen’s workload, his approach to encouraging offensive creativity, and the reduction in shots against since he took over as head coach.
Frederik Andersen is making his fifth consecutive start in Vancouver. What have you seen in Fred’s play that stands out to you?
Keefe: Just consistency both in his demeanor and his approach and his play. We have a lot of confidence with him in the net.
How much thought have you put into the long-term plan this year for the goaltenders? How much can you afford to think about that right now?
Keefe: We’ve had discussions about that and any time we talk about it we sort of just put it off because we are focused on the day to day here. It is important for us to look big picture. We’re not going to overreact or anything that is happening on the daily here because we want to be doing the right things for Fred and for our team in the long term. He is playing well here now and we obviously played him in the back-to-back coming out of the Philadelphia game there. Aside from that, there has been lots of time off and spacing in the games here on this trip. We are going to continue with it here and take it a day at a time.
Has Frederik Andersen expressed a willingness to go past what maybe his number was at the beginning of the year?
Keefe: Yeah, I haven’t talked to him about that and nobody on our staff that I’m aware of has. As I said, we are taking it a day at a time while also knowing it is imperative for us to get things moving with a second goaltender that can come in and play well. Hutchy, I think, has had a great stretch of practices for us here and we felt was in a really good spot to play in that Colorado game in terms of how his preparation and his mindset was. Obviously, we didn’t give him a chance to play, but having a second guy that can play and get wins for us is imperative — that we find that momentum.
As a new coach in this league and a relatively fresh mind… fans like to see entertaining hockey. You’ve got a very skilled team. Are you of the belief, as a young fresh mind, to let skill be prevalent on the ice as opposed to dumbing it down and winning a hockey game 2-1? Do you look at the game that way at all?
Keefe: The way I look at it is that I am comfortable playing in any game and letting the terms of the game kind of dictate themselves. Even when you have the skill flying around and you’re feeling good, sometimes it is still going to end up 2-1 for various reasons and you’re comfortable with that. Generally, I like to let the skilled players have some freedom to do their thing with the puck. Sometimes that results in some mistakes and the game opens up a little bit. What we try to focus on is making sure we have a good structure and foundation in place where, when things maybe don’t go our way offensively, we can take care of the game enough to get it back without opening ourselves up too much.
You know a lot of your team well from the Marlies. Does that also apply to opponents? Against opponents like Vancouver, does your experience in the AHL against Utica and teams like that help you know the opposition a little better?
Keefe: There are some players that I’ve seen along the way. Coaching against Travis Green, of course, I do see a lot of differences in how he is coaching and how Vancouver plays. It looks to me as though he has evolved a lot. Having some of the elite skill that he does will do that. It is different. Some of the things I was expecting to see in the video I didn’t quite see. It is a different group and a different challenge for us. Their team has lots of energy and skill. They’re confident. It’s going to be a tough game for us.
Your shots against totals are down to just about 30. Alex Kerfoot thought a lot of that was because of puck possession. Does it go beyond that? Is there a structure that is involved defensively, too?
Keefe: We think so. Particularly in the last couple of games, we think it is really starting to click for us in terms of what we want to be doing in all three zones without the puck, particularly our defensive zone. We think that that has reduced the amount of time we have spent there. It was a challenge for us against St. Louis — one of the teams that have spent the most time in the offensive zone. We thought we negated that pretty well. There is some progress there. That helps, and of course, the more we have the puck, the less the opponent is going to have it. That is a focus for us, too.