Sheldon Keefe addressed the media after practice on Saturday, discussing the game against the Florida Panthers on Sunday, Auston Matthews’ increased minutes, William Nylander’s season, and Andreas Johnsson’s status for tomorrow’s game.
Mitch Marner and Auston Matthews are tied for second in the league in takeaways at 50 apiece. As Travis Dermott says, there is a “track and transition” thing that you guys do and how important it is. What does it say about the evolution of those two men’s careers as they evolve?
Keefe: I think they are really recognizing the correlation between getting the puck back quickly and generating offense. That is something we talk about a lot. I don’t think that is new for them to hear that message here, also. But I think the more confident they get with the puck offensively, you also get a little more passion towards getting it back quickly because you’re feeling it. You want to get it back and you want to get back on offense. That is what they have been doing really well.
We’ve got a number of other guys — William Nylander has been excellent in that, John Tavares — that are really good at doing that. They’ve got really strong sticks and win the puck back to keep us on offense.
One extra day in Florida doesn’t seem like a ton, but in the midst of a long season, why is it important to have days like this and what do you feel the value is?
Keefe: Just a chance to break up the schedule a little bit. The weather wasn’t very good yesterday and didn’t seem great this morning, either. It’s just a nice change of pace through the long season. It was something that was planned in the offseason and we revisited it here a couple of weeks ago just to make sure it was what we wanted to continue to do. Everybody thought it made sense. Yesterday was an off-day for us regardless, so it just felt a little bit better to have it there. Coming in here, we had a great practice, I thought, just getting ourselves ready for tomorrow.
What are the chances that Andreas Johnsson plays tomorrow?
Keefe: Not sure exactly where that is at here. We are going to talk to the medical staff and see where he is at tomorrow. He is day-to-day here, so we will make a decision with the medical team and with Mango just whether it makes sense to play tomorrow or if we give him a little more time.
What was the importance of re-signing Martin Marincin?
Keefe: Those aren’t really my decisions, but as I see it, he is a very valuable depth player for the organization. We have seen it here now with the injury to Muzzin. He has come in and has been able to be really solid on the penalty kill as he has been throughout his time in the NHL, and also give us good minutes against good players in the way he defends and all of that. It is important to have those types of players that can be there for you at times when you need them. He is a very low maintenance guy who is popular around his teammates. It just makes a lot of sense and we are happy to have him.
It has to be relief from your corner knowing that the news looks good on Rob Davison today.
Keefe: Yeah. It was tough news yesterday, for sure. It does seem like he is doing well. I was able to talk to him and I was communicating with his wife last night. It is a tough deal. Tough circumstances. All considered, I am happy with how things have worked out in terms of how the organization handled it. It seems like the players having to experience that put them in a tough place and they didn’t feel comfortable playing. The good news is that they were able to deal with it and he is doing better today.
What is something you’ve learned about William Nylander this season?
Keefe: I don’t know that I’ve learned. I have seen him play enough and I’ve coached him before. I don’t think it is necessarily that I’ve learned anything new. I have believed in his abilities. He is a great player. He has proven he is a great player in the league. I just think that when he is really on his game and he is really engaged, he is really hard to stop. That is not new. I haven’t learned that. That has always been the case with him. He has been really good here for some time now.
Is there an extra challenge tonight when you are going up against a coach like Joel Quenneville with his history in the game?
Keefe: I don’t think so. I don’t look at it that way. Every coach in the league is very good and has their own experiences that serve them well. I just try to focus on our game and focus on the opposition and their players and the matchups and stuff like that. As I gain more experience coaching against different coaches, I’ll get a feel for tendencies and such. Right now, I am relying on our prescouting and the coaches that we have that have been on the benches to play against all the different teams and all the different coaches. I don’t spend too much time thinking about it.
Why has Auston Matthews responded well to more minutes?
Keefe: I think he is a really good player and the good players want to get on the ice. It gives him a chance to really establish themselves in the game. That has been important to me — to get those guys on the ice early and get them feeling it and give them a chance to put our team in a good spot. He has responded well. He has been a good player for a long time. He has been in a good stretch here, but the whole time he has been in the league, he has been a dominant player. He has responded well to having more minutes, but really, that’s come off of the fact that he is just working consistently. We haven’t seen any dips in his efforts or habits.
Does the schedule factor into your deployment? Does the fact that you don’t have back-to-backs and you have a break coming up factor in? Or is it just based on the game and if you’re feeling it?
Keefe: It really is just a game-by-game thing. We are trying to give ourselves the best chance to win every game. But you do look at things going into the game and say, “We have a game tomorrow,” if it were a back-to-back situation, and you try to be mindful of that. Once you are in the game, you try to make the right decisions to help our players and the team succeed. You’ve got to make the right calls there. It has been nice that the schedule has allowed us to give them a day and a little bit later practices here and there with a lighter workload to make sure he is sharp and ready.