Sheldon Keefe addressed the media after practice on Monday, discussing the nearing return of Morgan Rielly to the lineup, the team’s inconsistency over the last few weeks, and the matchup against the Tampa Bay Lightning tomorrow night.
You’ve got so much talent on this hockey club. Things are going to go dry over 82 games. That is the norm. How might a tweak help these guys getting started tomorrow night in terms of refreshing what you’d like to do on the attack?
Keefe: Yeah, we hope that it can help that — just change the chemistry a little bit. We try to do it here and there throughout a game. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. In this case, we hope it can spark something for sure.
After the Carolina game, everyone seemed to be down on themselves. You had a really good week after. Last week, not as good again. Where do you think your team’s psychological approach is right now heading into this final stretch?
Keefe: I think we definitely recognize that our results out West were not acceptable — at this time of year especially. When I say the results, I take it back to the process that of how we played that would lead to those results. We know what we are in here in terms of the battle and in terms of what is at stake and how we need to perform here now coming back on home ice.
We also know that the challenges ahead, when you look at the schedule this week, we’ve got really good teams again that are playing very well. Our guys know what is at stake and they’re a little confused — I guess — themselves in terms of why we have been so hot and cold. We are looking to be able to replicate more of what we have done when things have gone well.
To me, it just starts and ends, really, with how engaged we are and how we work and how competitive we are in all situations. When we do that, it’s amazing how much better our breakouts look, how much better our forecheck looks, how much better we get the puck back in the offensive zone, how many pucks you get to the net, and how your power play looks. It’s just amazing how all of these things fall into place. There are definitely some structure pieces and some tactical elements to it, but we’ve got to work.
How optimistic are you about potentially getting Morgan Rielly back tomorrow and what sort of impact can he make?
Keefe: I am optimistic. We are going to see how he gets through the rest of the day today and how he responds tomorrow. It’s looking very good that he is going to be back here in the very near future.
In terms of his impact, his impact on the ice speaks for itself in terms of what he has done over his career and what he means to this organization. It is going to take him some time to get back up to game speed, of course. The biggest thing for me, at this time of year especially, is just his voice and his presence around the team, in the locker room, and on the bench. We don’t have a lot of guys that I would say are guys that really are the vocal ones that kind of push you and get you going.
If you were to ask me who the leaders are in that regard, I would say Rielly and Muzzin are the two guys that are the most vocal for us in terms of pushing our team. Their personalities are such that they keep it light and keep everyone loose and relaxed. I think that is important. I think that, in itself, brings a lot to the group.
How do you think Mitch Marner, in particular, has handled the rollercoaster? He made some comments about wanting to stay off social media.
Keefe: I think a lot of our young players are finding their way through times like this. I think dealing with the media and how you are handling all of the noise on the outside is a part of that. I don’t see it impacting our group inside our walls and in my discussions with them and observing their interactions with others. The guys are pretty focused and realize what they need to do.
Tomorrow’s opponent in Tampa Bay is a potential first-round playoff opponent. Do you guys have to embrace some of that to push you forward a little bit?
Keefe: We are not in the playoffs unlike Tampa, so we need to approach every game like the playoffs have already begun. I think we have been able to do that at times like when we went down there and played both Tampa and the Panthers in Florida. We need to approach every game like that and we need to have a response here. We didn’t get it done on the road so now every game is that much more important. That is just the way that it is. No matter who we are playing, we have to be ready for that.
How is Ilya Mikheyev doing? What’s his situation?
Keefe: His situation, as I’ve tried to describe before, is a little more tricky because of the nature of his surgery and everything. They had 12 weeks as the timeline. He has progressed very well and has looked very good. I think he has got some checkups and appointments and stuff coming that are going to perhaps give us a better sense of how that is going to look.
How much attention are you paying to the coronavirus? It’s kind of uncharted territory.
Keefe: As it affects us, I think is secondary. I think it is a bigger thing than just having me as a coach as an NHL team to be commenting and talking about it. It is more of a thing that affects the general public across the world. There are a lot smarter people than myself to be able to comment and talk about it.
You made it into the front row for the team picture today?
Keefe: Yeah, I got invited, thankfully [laughs]. It’s great. You know what? As I said when I talked to the team, it’s one thing to be in a picture, but the reason why you take a picture is to have a memory to look back on. We want to be able to look back at our team picture and be proud of our group and remember the individuals fondly for the efforts that they brought. I think that is what a picture represents — the memories. We do have an opportunity here to make this season a memorable one.
We saw Mitch Marner get the puck more up top on the power play. How does that change the dynamic on the man advantage?
Keefe: That is something we have done in the past. I think we have gotten away from it a little bit in terms of Mitch’s ability to roll up there. That has always been part of our scheme. We want to have that ability to be able to do that and change the look of our group just a little bit and change the path of the puck and all of those different things.
We do have some really good practice time this week between each game all week long. We will be expected to practice three days this week, which we haven’t had for quite some time. I don’t know necessarily that you’ll see anything that we are doing right now in tomorrow night’s game, but it is a good chance for us to start to introduce and evolve a little bit on the things we are doing.