Sheldon Keefe addressed the media on Tuesday, discussing the areas the team focused on in practice, the decision to pull Frederik Andersen in the Oilers game and the communication subsequently, Andersen’s workload, and Rasmus Sandin’s World Junior performance.
When practices are at a premium, what do you draw from today by separating the groups and getting the opportunity to specialize a little bit?
Keefe: We are just looking to have a more purposeful practice. There is a lot that can be done in the structure pieces, which is really what we’ve done for the most part, but a day like today, we try to really isolate a few different pieces in different areas of the game that are part of that structure. We tried to isolate that. We think those types of details are important and are the type of details that get lost over the course of a season. It’s just kind of using a day like today to do that.
At the same time, it’s a bit of a break too from a lot of the bigger-picture stuff that we are showing them and working at every single day. We are just trying to nail it down to the details that are important and will serve us well.
The attention to those details — what did you see on this side of the ice with the defensemen working on stopping pucks and negating forecheck?
Keefe: I was able to bounce back and forth and get a pretty good idea of what was happening on both sides. We worked together to create a plan for what was going to be worked at. Like I said, I think there are pieces there that are important. D-zone coverage is one area that we weren’t good at yesterday. We have been very good at it during the time we put together a real positive streak. Yesterday, we took a step backward, but within that detail of d-zone coverage, if you do your job, you then have a chance to get the puck back and you have a chance to make the next play to get yourself out of d-zone. That is an area we have been trying to spend time on.
The players have said that they appreciate the honesty that you bring on a daily basis, and as a result, the message you delivered in terms of your decision to pull Frederik Andersen, everyone said it was taken the right way. How have you managed to foster that culture of honesty so that when you do get a pointed message like it was, it does get taken the right way?
Keefe: I don’t know specifically. I am happy that they feel that way. I think being honest, of course, is the foundation of building trust in any sort of relationship. There is that piece of it. A lot of the things we are trying to do here is to build something where the players recognize that we are in this with them. It is not us against them or anything like that. We are all in this thing together and working together.
That is why we do the things that we do every day to try to create an environment where players feel comfortable coming here — different things we have done to recognize different situations that are important for specific players. All of those types of things make them recognize that we are in it with them so that when there is a time that we have to make a decision that maybe shocks the system a little bit, they take it the right way, recognizing that it is done with the right intent.
What was with the conversation with Frederik Andersen like in terms of the next-day message?
Keefe: It was really good. I sat down with him in my office and talked on the ice a little bit, too. I just wanted to make sure I spent some time to elaborate on my brief conversation with him yesterday. He was really good about it and understood it and recognized that a lot of what went into the decision yesterday is partly about what is going on in the particular game and trying to change things and give us perhaps a hope of coming back, but really, it’s bigger picture. The chances of us coming back in that predicament — down three, but also just with how we are playing — are very slim. If we are going to talk about managing Freddy’s workload, I don’t see any reason why he should’ve been in net going forward in that game. That is why we made that call.
Does that speak to a high level of cognizance of the importance of the bigger picture with Freddy’s workload?
Keefe: Yeah, we’ve had these discussions. It is part of why we are trying to get a little more traction with the backup goaltender. It can allow us a little more freedom and confidence to make such decisions. Freddy has been here in the organization long enough that there is enough history and data there as it relates to him specifically and others around the league as it relates to workload. Sometimes, later in the season perhaps, there will be situations where we’ve got to do what is right to win that particular game. That really always is the focus, but we are trying to get Freddy at a manageable number. We’ve got to make some significant steps to get there. Decisions like last night and the other day to play Hutchinson are all a part of it.
How can Rasmus Sandin use that experience at the World Juniors going forward now?
Keefe: It is another step in his progression and his development. My experience with the Marlies and players playing that event and coming back, I’ll be missing some, but the ones that come to mind are Nylander and Kapanen and Liljegren. When they come back, it serves them really well. They come back with a little extra confidence and they get a chance to play with their peers and represent their country and play in a high-pressure environment. It serves them very well. I am sure it was a positive experience for him. I haven’t had a chance to talk to him or anything like that, but I just think it is a really good step for a high-end young player and one that serves players really well going forward.
Is the plan for him to go back to the Marlies for now?
Keefe: That is the plan. Obviously, he is an important player for our future. We feel like we’ve been going pretty well as a group even without Muzzin. We recognize, whether it is Liljegren or Sandin, that both guys are right there and they’re playing lots and they’re part of things with us. We are keeping an eye on what is happening and communicating a lot. We are only carrying six defensemen. Obviously, we know they are only a call away if we need to make a change there or add somebody because of injury or what have you.