Sheldon Keefe addressed the media via conference call on Friday on an off-day for the team, discussing Andreas Johnsson’s injury, the plan in net this weekend, Morgan Rielly’s status, and the team finding the balance between offense and defense.
Do you have an update on Andreas Johnsson as well as what you plan on doing in goal tomorrow night?
Keefe: In regards to Johnsson, he sustained the injury yesterday, but after spending time with our doctors, he will require surgery. We’ll have more of an update on his timeline once the procedure is completed, but he is expected to miss at least eight weeks.
In regards to the goaltending, the plan for tomorrow is for Campbell to go, and Freddy will play against Buffalo.
Kyle Dubas said last week that Morgan Rielly will get looked at again this week. Is there an update on his status?
Keefe: There has been a little bit of update in that there has been some progress here in regards to him healing. However, it is a slow process. We believe in the next week or so he will be progressing to it sort of being weight-bearing and starting to move forward with his rehab plans. We are still looking toward the end of March for him.
You’ve lost Johnsson and you are working Frederik Andersen back in. In the time you have been coach, you have generally been successful as far as how the team has played. How difficult are all of these bumps and setbacks making this team’s progress as you fight for a playoff spot?
Keefe: Of course, it does present challenges. It affects your depth. But I think we’ve talked about it more than enough times — it’s part of the game. It is part of the league. Everybody goes through it. For the most part, all of the teams we are playing are going through similar types of things. What it does do is provide additional opportunities for players that either haven’t been playing as much as they would like or haven’t been playing at all in some cases. It gives a chance for those guys to grow, which in the long term, helps our team grow.
I think we have shown that we are in every single game and we are capable of continuing to press on. That is really what the challenge is here for us — to be able to develop and show that we are an upper-echelon team. I believe those teams are the ones that don’t get fazed by an injury here or an injury there. We’ve just got to stay focused on what we need to do well as a group and where we need to continue to grow. We hope to be in a better spot as a group when those injured players do return.
You’ve talked the whole way along about stuff like giving up odd-man rushes — which you made progress on — and then last night, it was a little bit of that. In terms of staying with what you want to do in terms of aggressiveness and patience in the face of defensive teams, last night was a tricky one. Do you still feel you are growing in that area and getting towards where you want to be?
Keefe: Yeah, I really do. I look at last night and I think we had what wasn’t really a defensive issue. It’s an offensive issue. When we have the puck and then we don’t and they sneak in behind us, it is kind of a bang-bang situation. The second goal in the second period, to me, is an unacceptable one. That is one where all six players on the ice, in that case, didn’t do their job. That is unacceptable to come out and start a period like that.
I do look at what we have focused on as we’ve come out of the All-Star break and it is to reduce those types of chances that we were giving up. I think we have made great progress in that regard, especially when you consider we are doing it without Morgan Rielly and without Cody Ceci here now — two guys that have played a lot of minutes for us. We are filling them in with Sandin and Liljegren, and those guys have done a really good job of helping us. The other four guys have as well, as have our forwards in terms of insulating them and helping them.
To answer your question: Yes, I have seen progress there for sure, but it is a shift-to-shift thing. You have to stay consistent and be diligent with it. You also have to realize, though, that hockey is going to happen. We all watch the highlights every night all across the league. Teams give up chances and give up breakaways and odd-man rushes; it happens. It’s a part of the game. It is going to happen. We’ve reduced the number of them. We think it is a manageable number now. We’ve talked about while doing that, how we can still continue to generate the necessary offense to be able to put ourselves in a position to win games.
In last night’s game, the Stars blocked a lot of shots. Is that just the nature of the team you were playing, or do you think it is something you are going to see more and more often down the stretch here?
Keefe: I think at this time of year, everything is a little tighter here now. Our team is playing tighter as well. But I think it’s certainly the nature of the team we played last night. That is part of what they do and they’ve proven over 60 games here now that they are one of the elite teams in playing in that manner. They make it really hard on the opposition, especially when they get a lead.
I do expect we are going to see a lot more of that going forward here, especially in our next game against our next opponent in Ottawa. That is another team that plays very similarly and plays real hard as we saw a few weeks ago on home ice. I think each team really has its own identity and the things it does and is known for.
Each team is a little bit different, but certainly, with the time of year and everything that is at stake, everyone is playing a little bit harder and a little bit tighter. The offense is harder to come by. That is why we have to continue to be tight defensively and minimize what we give up, but still push and find ways to attack the net and get on the inside and generate real scoring opportunities and power plays.