Sheldon Keefe addressed the media after the team’s practice on Friday, discussing the lineup changes for the Oilers game, the team’s work in progress defensively, his approach to matching lines, his message after the collapse in Calgary, and the decision to start Frederik Andersen in all four games on the road trip.
Is there a possibility of lineup changes tomorrow?
Keefe: It is looking that way. We have some decisions. We’ve got to wait on the status of some guys for tomorrow. It is looking like we will have the Goat back in for sure. Besides that, I’m not sure how the rest will shake out.
Trevor Moore’s status will probably be decided tomorrow?
Have you made a decision in net?
Keefe: Freddy is going to go tomorrow.
You mentioned before the trip getting Michael Hutchinson a start somewhere here. Is it just because of Andersen’s play the last little while and riding the hot hand?
Keefe: Yeah, that is the big one for us. To be honest, the Calgary start was the one we were looking at for Hutch. Of course, the way the Vancouver game went, we felt we needed to go back with Freddy. With this one here, we’ve got time between the last game and this. Today was a lighter day. His workload hasn’t been that great this week as a whole, so we just feel that going back with him here is important.
In the third period last night, do you feel you dealt with that today? Did you get your point across, do you think?
Keefe: I think so. It is not a message we haven’t been sending every day — recently here, especially. It is a chance for us to regroup and reflect. Again, for me, it is not just the third period. I think the third period is where things catch up to you and the puck ends up going in your net, but there were spurts in the game yesterday in the second period, and in the Vancouver game as well, and those are things we need to get out of our game.
Also, when you go back and look at it, there were a lot of really good things happening as well. We can’t lose sight of that. We have set ourselves up to win most games since I’ve been here. We’ve been in good spots. We haven’t always dealt with it the best, and that is the area we have to continue to work at. As we start doing things really well in other areas — we start controlling the game a little bit better, we have the puck more — now the other team is waiting for the quick strike and waiting for us to make a mistake to pounce on that. That is what we have to manage better — that transition.
Is that a balance between being the puck possession and offensively-aggressive team you are and the defensive balance? Is that the hardest thing for this team to maybe adjust to after 10 games?
Keefe: Yeah, it is. I don’t think it’s just in the ten games. I think that when you look at the nature of the team and the players that we have, we are trying to put them in positions to succeed offensively but there are some hurdles defensively that we have to get over. That is not just news since I’ve been here. That is just some things we have to work at and it’s a mindset. Part of being a good possession team is being an elite defensive team. If you are not an elite defensive team, you don’t have the puck enough to be the possession team you want to be. That is all part of it for us and that is where we have to have our greatest growth.
Is that where starting Frederik Andersen is so important because he is such a rock for you guys? While you’re still giving up that quality of chances, you want your best guy in?
Keefe: That is part of it. Generally, you just want to have your best guy in as often as you can, but without a doubt, we want to be a team that eventually gets to a point where it doesn’t matter who is in net.
The right decisions in the neutral zone and puck management in that regard — how do you go about doing that given all the skill you’ve got on the team and the ability to pass the way they can to generate speed?
Keefe: That is important for us. We want to do good things with it. I think we have. There are a lot of really good things happening. A lot of our issues aren’t necessarily related to puck management or turnovers or anything of that nature. It is more just the transitions of when the puck is free and nobody really has it, but maybe the opposition has the upper hand and they are about to get it, and how quickly we get ourselves into some defensive structure so that we get the puck back quicker. Those are the pieces I think we are struggling with the most and that is what is opening up the game a little bit.
You look at who we face tomorrow, and if we do that, we are going to be in a tough spot. It really doesn’t matter for even just tomorrow — it is whoever we are playing. The other will have good players that will hurt you.
Do you anticipate the Hyman – Tavares – Marner line has clicked again right away because of their history?
Keefe: Because of the history for sure, we thought it would be easy to click and get back together. We had a good sense of that, which is why before it got up and running, I wanted to try something different and see what that would look like with Hyman on a different line with Kerfoot. That worked really well and it is something I kind of have in mind that we could do at any particular time if we feel we need a little bit better balance that way with matchups and what have you. Just the way the line has been clicking, it has been pretty tough to think of separating anything there.
With all of these road games, what has it been like to match lines the way you have? Are you looking forward to maybe getting some home games and have that switched around?
Keefe: There are a lot of advantages, of course, to being at home. I don’t know, in terms of actual matchups, how much we will ever be a team that is going to be heavy in that sense. It is always going to be more reacting to what is happening in the game — where the puck is, where the faceoffs are, and those types of things — but certainly, there are some advantages to being at home and getting the right matchups. Sometimes it is mismatches that you are trying to look for rather than heavy matchups against other team’s best players.
What kind of challenge is it going to be against McDavid tomorrow?
Keefe: It is a great challenge. Of course, we will prepare as best we can and manage that — in particular, how we have been playing in terms of giving up odd-man rushes and quick-strike chances going the other way, he is the most dangerous player in the league in that sense. That will be a real challenge for us to do that. At the same time, we’ve got to focus on the rest of their team as well and not forget about the fact that we have good players, too.
When you took over the team, one of the things you talked about was restoring their spirit a little bit. They were a little bit beaten down. It seems like some of that has come back at times. Is there still a balance there and times where you go backward? In a season where you need points fast, is that all a tricky thing to balance?
Keefe: It is a very tricky thing. It is part of the hurdle when you come in mid-stream like this and you are swimming upstream a little bit in some areas. You’ve got to manage that. The spirits have remained high. Even when we have had nights like last night where it comes crashing down quickly, we seem to be able to regroup quickly. That is why it was nice to get on the ice today and touch the puck a little bit and get loose. We had a meeting where we had to address certain things, but we wanted to make sure, by the time practice ended, that we had flushed it and were ready to start with a new day.