Sheldon Keefe addressed the media after practice in San Jose on Monday, discussing the team’s three-game winning streak, Morgan Rielly, Cody Ceci and Ilya Mikheyev’s timelines for their return to the lineup, and Nick Robertson’s incredible numbers in the OHL (50 goals and 76 points in 43 games).
The quest for consistency, with a euphoric high of three straight wins, how do you keep it going knowing that there is that landmine of doubt given what has happened in the past?
Keefe: The only way to keep it going is to keep things in perspective and know that we’ve just got to focus on every single day that comes our way and not get caught up in any of the other stuff that is outside of our control. Our preparation and those types of things give us a chance of performing well. We’ve just got to keep our focus there.
What have you learned about how to manage the highs and lows?
Keefe: Nothing that has come my way in terms of the rollercoaster has been a surprise. In fact, even when things were going really well in the early going, I knew it wasn’t going to stay that way. We were going to have to ride the wave a little bit on the other side of it. Every team goes through it. It is one of the things that I was observing as an outsider in the American league — even how some of the best teams in the league end up going through tough stretches. It is those that can manage those things the best that end up at the higher end of the standings than the others.
That hasn’t been a surprise. Obviously, it is more magnified in a market such as ours. It is just a matter of keeping the perspective in place with the players every day and how we frame every day. We talk about trying to control what we can, which is our preparation and ultimately our performance.
How was Morgan Rielly’s first practice since January? How soon do you think you might have as a game player?
Keefe: I don’t think they want me to attach any sort of timeline to it, but he is not going to play on this trip. I would think that when we get back next week, it will be sort of a day-to-day type of thing from there assuming everything goes really well.
Obviously, it’s very positive for us to see him on the ice. He steps into doing a lot of our drills — our full contact drills — and he has been feeling really good. We’ve just got to make sure that everything continues to have the appropriate amount of time before he gets into a game.
Is Cody Ceci a potential option for the trip?
Keefe: No. We are looking at next week for both of them. Mikheyev would be further out, but it is very much looking like he is going to be back this season, which is good for us.
Joe Thornton is one of the players still playing that you would’ve played against. How impressive is it that you’re 39 and Joe is 40 and he is still playing?
Keefe: I certainly wasn’t one of those guys that was able to do it. I don’t know if I am qualified to speak to it. But I think I look at a guy like Jason Spezza in our group and there are a lot of things that go into it in terms of, first of all, how you take care of your body and how prepared you are for the season. The other thing is the passion and the love for the game. That is the common thread that I see. Any of the players that are still going at it that have made a lot of money and had a lot of success but are still going through the grind every day clearly have something special about them in terms of their connection to the game.
What stood out to you about Auston Matthews’ goal on Saturday? It was from such a wide angle and there was some interesting footwork. What was your perspective on the goal?
Keefe: I am not surprised that a lot goes into every that he does. When you ask him about it and how he breaks it down, he is very calculated in that sense. From my perspective, I thought it was just him throwing it in and trying to catch a goalie off guard. He did. He needed a little bit of luck for that to happen.
Do you think there is a better goal scorer in the league?
Keefe: There are some elite goal scorers out there. The guys he is competing with here — Pastrnak, Ovechkin — are doing some pretty great things and have for a long time; certainly in Ovechkin’s case. But he has clearly established himself as in the conversation with those players and he is obviously young enough that he is just going to continue to get better.
Are there going to be any changes on the blue line at all for tomorrow’s lineup?
Keefe: Yes. Liljegren is going to go back in. Sandin is going to get the night off.
What was your impression of Nick Robertson when you had him in camp?
Keefe: Just impressed in all regards. Not knowing a lot about him other than where he was drafted — and that he was the highest draft pick for the team in the second round — there is a little bit more focus on him at development camp. He jumps off the page when you are watching from above. He had a really impressive development camp, rookie tournament, and training camp. He’s now carried it onto a dominant OHL season and World Juniors and all of that. He is one we are excited about. He is such a great find for us in the second round.
With Sandin and Liljegren, is there any worry that you’re asking too much of them?
Keefe: We are not allowing our circumstances to put those guys in difficult spots. Rasmus Sandin, with our team, just played 15 games in 29 days in the NHL in February. That is a lot to ask for a young guy. He took on a lot of responsibility here with the injuries and such. We like how those guys have done for us, but now with the addition of Rosen, we think — even with the injuries — we have the ability to move guys in and out and give some of these younger guys some time off and a little extra time in the gym to ease the pressure of the schedule a little bit for them. That is why Sandin is going to be out tomorrow and the same with Liljegren with why he went in. It gives a chance, at the same time, for Rosen to take another step here in terms of getting comfortable and our group getting comfortable with him.