Sheldon Keefe addressed the media after practice on Thursday, discussing the team’s progress through 12 games under his watch, the lack of penalties drawn and taken by the team, the plan in net for the back-to-back games this weekend, and more.
12 games in with you behind the bench. Are you seeing at least consistency in what you want to see for a puck possession team?
Keefe: We think we are seeing more and more of it. As I said the other night, I still think we have a long way to go, which just speaks to the potential. It is not negative on our group. We’ve done a lot of good things that have put us in good spots. I just think we have a lot more to give and a lot more to growth. That is exciting.
What do you think the biggest difference is between this group now and the one you took over a month ago, whether it’s the mood or how they are playing?
Keefe: It is different in the sense that when you first arrive, it is fresh and it is new. That kind of carries you through the first little bit. Over time, things settle down and then you are kind of back into the grind of the season. Being on the road as much as we were probably didn’t help that spot, but things have settled in. It seems relatively normal now. There is more of a challenge in terms of just engaging the group and keeping them going because now it is a lot of the same type of messaging coming at them. We are still kind of working at it. It’s just staying with it.
How much do you look at the standings and how tight things are at this stage of the season?
Keefe: I mean, I know enough that it is tight, but it is not something I am looking at. We have a lot of season left to play. We just keep focused every day on getting better and who our next opponent is.
Have you decided which start Michael Hutchinson will get?
Keefe: He’ll get the game here Saturday against Detroit.
How much do you feel for him that he really wants to contribute but hasn’t had that opportunity?
Keefe: Well, he has had opportunities. They haven’t come of late here, of course. That is something that is not as much about Hutch but we wish we could’ve gotten Freddy a break in there. Obviously, the one back and back where Freddy played both games, that’s kind of where Hutch lost his start.
Since then, the schedule has been fine for us. This is another opportunity for him. He has had an excellent stretch of practices here much like he had when he was scheduled to start there. He was feeling good and looking good in practice. His demeanour has been really good. The feedback from Steve Briere has been excellent. I am sure he is anxious to play.
What have you learned about Auston Matthews since you took over the team?
Keefe: It confirmed what I already knew in terms of his talent and his game-breaking ability, but I also know that he has a great mind and intelligence for the game and is passionate about it in terms of watching and learning about himself and other players. He wants to do really well and he wants our team to do really well. All of those things are really healthy and they are going to help us going forward.
What is the plan with Adam Brooks?
Keefe: He is just here right now in terms of getting us a little extra insurance. With Trevor Moore’s situation, we wanted to have an extra body around. I think he has earned it. He has played very well — not just this season but going back the last two seasons. He has really taken big steps. It is nice to see him around here and get him a little extra experience and a chance to get comfortable here. In the event that we do call on him in the future here, he is further along.
Do you see Trevor Moore as a possibility to get in this week?
Keefe: Yeah, I am told he is available here now based on practice today. We haven’t made any final lineup decisions here in terms of what we will do in either game. But he is available to us as of now.
Do you look beyond discipline when your club is the second lowest penalized team in the NHL? What else goes into that?
Keefe: I think it is an interesting thing, right? I think it does coincide with the fact that we haven’t drawn a lot of penalties also. They’re low-event games we’ve played in terms of penalties. I think there is enough of a history there not just with the Leafs but all across hockey that that seems to correlate. If you take a lot, you seem to get a lot. If you don’t take a lot, you seem to not get very much.
I don’t know how much we can read into that, to be honest. We are the kind of team that isn’t going to instigate a lot of things and isn’t going to raise the emotion levels of the game too much. I think that is part of it. Also, we want to be a disciplined team. We can’t afford to take penalties. There has been a stretch of the season where that has been an issue here. We want to make sure that doesn’t come up again.
Did you like going into New York City at Christmas time as a player?
Keefe: Yeah, as a player, I have. It is exciting any time but certainly this time of year it is going to be fun.
Greg Moore’s first game is coming up on the weekend.
Keefe: I spent a good amount of time with Greg while he was with us on the road trip. He is excited to get going. It has been a good week of practice for him. We chatted a fair bit and I’ve tried to give him as much information as I can. He is prepared for this. He is a good coach. he has got a lot of great ideas. He is going to do great there.