Sheldon Keefe addressed the media after practice on Monday, discussing the four-in-six-games stretch coming up, the status of Frederik Andersen for tomorrow night’s game vs. Arizona, Jack Campbell’s acclimation to the team, Jason Spezza’s strong play of late, and more.
You were missing some bodies today and have the challenge four games in the next six nights. How do handle a practice to get through it and still develop?
Keefe: It was a challenge. I think at one point there we had as much goalies as we had defensemen on the ice. It was a challenge, but it comes with it. Coming from the American league, you’re used to having challenges such as this, but the guys adjusted just fine.
Are you expecting the absent players to be available tomorrow?
Keefe: I am. However, it is an illness, so you never know how it is going to affect our guys. A lot of those people will be game-time decisions, and of course, we are hoping it is something that doesn’t spread.
How did Frederik Andersen look today?
Keefe: He looked good. I didn’t spend a lot of time looking at him. I know the reports have been good, and he has put in a lot of work here since last week to get himself back up to speed. I think he wants to see how things are for the rest of the day today and how we wakes up tomorrow, and we’ll make a decision then.
He could potentially start tomorrow?
Keefe: I think so, yes. We are not ruling that out. We were going to have both him and Soup be ready.
In terms of Jack Campbell getting acclimated, he is saying he is feeling pretty comfortable. What have you picked up on about him over the last few days?
Keefe: Things we’ve already talked about. He is a guy who finds a way to be comfortable because he is very social and outgoing and has a great attitude about him. He just works. If you are guy who is used to working and pushing the envelope every day, it is easy just to ease into a new situation in that sense.
Has there been a trend with the third periods in the last week? You said it was a different feeling in the third period in Montreal. Is there a trend or anything? Is it just a one-off week.
Keefe: The trend, of course, is that they’re all third periods, and when you look at the issues in each of the games, there is no real trend there for us. We are hoping that it is something that was just a funny week with the way things worked out. Like I said, I thought in the Montreal game, defensively, we did a really good job. That has been the big focus of ours — trying to reduce the scoring chances that we give up. We got outshot pretty badly in that third period and we had a few opportunities to generate some shots and missed the net — that kind of stuff. It might have given us a better number than one, but it makes you lose sight of the fact that we had a really good second period. We were pretty dominant in that aspect there.
It is just kind of the ebbs and flows of the game. We scored early and then kind of got on our heels, but I thought our issues in that game were more related to our ability — or inability — to move the puck up with any sort of rhythm. We’ve got a team that has lots of energy and is pushing against that has the puck a lot. You’re going to give up shots. We felt that all of the shots, including the goal, were from the outside, and that is a positive for us relative to the past.
Do you feel the team is using all of its resources — be it assistants, video, that kind of thing — to get around this third-period thing?
Keefe: I mean, we had a bad week in that sense. I don’t think it has been a trend for us as a team. We’ve done, actually, a pretty good job of closing games out previous to this week. Also, when I look at it, I think the one game — it would’ve been the Florida game, perhaps — we scored real early in the third period and set ourselves up real well. We got off to a good start, and then it just goes south on us. In Montreal, it is a tie game and we score a big goal to put ourselves in a position to win. Despite not having a great period, we are two minutes away from doing so.
There are reasons for us to dig in and use our resources and make sure we spend time on it. It is also important to make sure we don’t overreact and create much of a complex around here. We can just continue to go out and work and look at the greater sample and trust ourselves.
You used Jason Spezza as the third-line center last game. How do you like him there versus on the wing?
Keefe: I liked it. I think he is skating really well. He has got a lot of speed coming through the middle of the ice. Obviously, he has the ability to make a play. Between him and Pierre and Kerfoot, we have different options there that we’ve worked with and we’ll probably continue to do that. Certainly, last week, I thought Spezza scored us a massive goal in the one game and had chances to score in Montreal as well with how he skated through the neutral zone. That is a real strength of his game that we’ve been able to get more out of in that spot. We’ll just see how it goes from there.
Are zone entries a factor right now on the power plays? You only got two chances, and it is tough to critique the third-best power play. What would you like to see tomorrow night that you might not have seen on Saturday?
Keefe: Some of our spacing and decision-making coming out of our zone was an issue on Saturday that caused us problems. If you don’t get that right coming out of your zone, you are going to end up jammed up at the blue line as you try to enter. I think Tyson [Barrie], a couple of times, was a little indecisive with what to do with the puck, and that stalled us. Once your spacing gets messed up there, you kind of lose your advantage coming through. The other team is very organized on the penalty kill, so it makes it hard on you.
We spent time on our entries. That is why winning the faceoff is so important — right away, you have a chance to attack and you catch the team. Once you do attack and they clear it, they’re going to have a line change and you have a greater chance of catching them before their structure is set. We are always looking at that. Paul MacFarland does a great job of making sure our guys are prepared and making the proper adjustments. That has been an area that has been a strength and has helped us win games, so we are not going to overthink that one, either.
How encouraging was it to see Ilya Mikheyev out there skating?
Keefe: It is great to see that. You see him here now and he has a lot of the casting and bandaging off and he is taking a step here to be on the ice. He is still a long way away from ever even practicing let alone playing, so we are not going to get too carried away. But it is great for him. I didn’t see him this morning, but I am sure he is happy to be back out there.
How encouraging was it to see the Marlies have a few wins this weekend?
Keefe: Yeah, it was great. I caught parts of the games on Saturday and chunks of the game on Sunday, too. They’ve been playing well for a bit here. They just haven’t found a way to win. That will help their confidence greatly. They’re getting some great performances from different people all through, particularly the young defensemen that have come up. Hollowell and Duszak seemed to have great weekends. It really helped that they’re getting a great chance because of the fact that our young guys, Sandin and Liljegren, are doing a great job for us. That is a real healthy sign for the organization.
William Nylander said he hasn’t been on the ice since Wednesday. How did he look in his return?
Keefe: I thought he looked fine. Willy is a guy that loves to skate all the time and stay with that consistently. I am sure he didn’t feel up to himself, but we were happy to see him back in the building, for sure.
The radar gun seemed to give Freddy some material against some of the guys. Is there a reason you threw that in there?
Keefe: I have no idea. I was kind of briefed on that before I came in here that it was even out there. I don’t know where that came from or whose idea it was, but it doesn’t interest me much.