Sheldon Keefe addressed the media on Thursday, discussing the line shuffles, his feel for the group nine games into his coaching tenure, his philosophy for goaltending workload, Pontus Aberg’s play, and Jason Spezza’s contributions on and off the ice.
The opportunity to mix up a couple of lines — is that a result of who you are playing tonight or just good business for your hockey club as they adjust from game to game?
Keefe: Really just us trying some different things and trying to get Kappy a little more involved up with Matthews and Willy. We’ve tried that through really each game that we have played here of late. We just want to try it on a full-time basis and see how it goes.
The towers on the other side of Alex Kerfoot in Mikheyev and Engvall — what do you think they can do in terms of forechecking and maybe capitalizing that way?
Keefe: Well, lots of speed and size on the wings. We are trying to get a little more traction on that line in terms of its ability to spend time with the puck and in the offensive zone. We like that. Also, we think that Engvall, with the way that he’s played, we’d like to get him a little more involved in the top nine. This is a chance for us to have a look at that.
Is there still so much more to learn about your group or do you feel you are getting a handle on it now?
Keefe: I feel like I am getting a pretty good handle on the group. I still feel like there is a long way for us to go. I don’t think we are close to where we would like to be in terms of what we think we can look like when we really get some time together — significant time together.
But in terms of the individuals, I’m getting a pretty good feel for them. I have been able to watch quite a bit of hockey with them here now, both in the games prior to my arrival and since I’ve been here. I’ve had more than enough time now to chat with each guy — a little more informally than I would have liked, but I think I am pretty comfortable with the group.
Both teams are feel-good stories right now considering everything that has gone on. What does this matchup look like vs. Calgary?
Keefe: As you say, it is two teams that have had different looks of late and are feeling good about themselves. Obviously, they have been really rolling here and we are a team that is trying to get some traction. We’ve started well and weren’t as good, and then we are moving back in a positive direction. One thing or another is going to come to a head here, so we want to make sure we are prepared.
Is the run Freddy is on make the decision easier for starting goaltender?
Keefe: Yeah, it does, for sure. He is in a groove, obviously, and means a lot to our team. We’ve known that. The fact that he is feeling good and we had a day off yesterday — with all of that, it was just a pretty easy decision there.
What is your philosophy on workload and how often a goalie should play when they’re playing well?
Keefe: It is pretty well documented that you want to limit the amount of time your starter gets and get proper time for the backup. That remains our philosophy and what we want to stick to, but the circumstances are a little bit different in terms of the schedule here. We haven’t had back-to-backs and the goalie is playing really well. That factors into everything. You have a philosophy and you are always kind of adjusting it on the fly as you. Certainly, we are well aware of the fact that we are going to have to get Freddy some rest over time.
What have you seen out of Pontus Aberg in his first two games?
Keefe: I’ve seen that he’s skated really well. I’ve really liked his game defensively. I think he’s filled in really well when he’s played with Matthews and Willy at times. He was the guy that was really responsible and in the right spot defensively and really skating hard. I think his play with the puck can go to another level. I think it is just a little bit of nerves and feeling uncomfortable. Us moving him down in the lineup is nothing to do with his play. It is more so just adjusting everybody else and it’s just how things fell. I’ve liked what I’ve seen from him.
How important is it that you get some production from the Kerfoot line, or are you just kind of happy with the saw-off?
Keefe: Given the fact that our top lines are producing here now, if we can get a saw-off and win shifts rather than necessarily getting production, we’ll take that, but we need help throughout our lineup. We think we have four lines that have the ability to score at any time. We would like to get a little more production out of that. But we’ll start just with them controlling play and winning shifts and the rest will follow from there.
Is there any concern on the other side with too much rest for Hutchinson for when you do go for him?
Keefe: That is part of it. We don’t like to see any of our guys sit for too long because when you need them, of course, they are not as prepared as you’d like them to be. That is a factor and definitely something that we have talked about. As I say, you take in all the information and try to make the best decision possible to give the team a chance to win while still balancing the fact that Freddy’s workload is something we have to be conscious of.
Jason Spezza has become your steady fourth-line center. What have you liked about him on the ice and off?
Keefe: First, off the ice — he has been a great voice in the locker room and on the bench. We don’t have a lot of guys that are overly vocal on the bench. They don’t talk a lot. He is one guy that is talking. He has got a great rapport with the referees and linesmen. Those things make a difference, I think, for a young team like ours.
On the ice, he is a guy that shows the ability to make a play, to produce for us on that second power-play unit, and if he gets a chance at even strength, he has the ability to score on it, too. It’s a lot of things that we like about him. As we are trying to find the right mix for what our group is going to look like at the bottom of our lineup, we like the fact that he can move around, play both center and wing, and move up the lineup if we need him to.
What does Gauthier have to do to get back in the lineup?
Keefe: What I’ve talked to Fred about — there is not a lot he can do, frankly. He was playing fine. We are just getting looks at different things. Freddy has been here. He has been kind of a staple on that fourth line. I am pretty comfortable with what he can provide. We are trying to see what the different possibilities might be for the group. When the time comes and he goes back in, we expect him to just keep doing what he was doing.
Is it more likely Trevor Moore gets back after the trip?
Keefe: He is close. I think we are reaching the point where he would be more considered day-to-day at this stage. We will just kind of see how it progresses from here.