After practice on Thursday, Sheldon Keefe discussed his definition of “Sheldon Keefe hockey,” Jake Muzzin’s play and leadership in camp, scouting Columbus, William Nylander’s camp, and Tyson Barrie’s mindset going into the playoffs after an up-and-down regular season.
If you were to define what a Sheldon Keefe hockey team was and what Sheldon Keefe hockey is, how would you define that?
Keefe: I would define it as a team that values the puck when they have it — that takes care of it and has a purpose when it has it — and one that is committed to getting it back as quickly as possible through puck pressure and defensive habits.
After the way the regular season went, what do you think the group can go out and prove in the playoffs?
Keefe: I don’t know… We talk about proving, but I don’t really know if that is what it is about. We believe in our team. We believe we had a lot of great moments throughout the season. My time there showed what we are capable of doing. We want to kind of embrace those rather than embracing the negatives. We’ve really worked hard to clean up a lot about our game. We are looking for greater consistency within it.
Whether we are proving ourselves right or others wrong, you can create that narrative any way you wish. We are just going to go out and perform.
How close is the Jake Muzzin you saw in the exhibition game and in camp to the best version of Jake Muzzin, the one who can make a difference in the playoffs?
Keefe: It is a great observation. Jake’s camp has been really good, but I thought in the exhibition game, in particular, he really looked like he was making a statement in terms of how prepared he was and how committed he is to being a difference-maker for us. He was involved in all areas of the game. He was our most physical player, as we expect him to be a lot of times, and he is. To do it with the level that he did in the first exhibition game, for a veteran player like himself, you know he just wants to be as prepared as possible for the games that really count here starting on Sunday.
He was involved physically. He was involved in the rush offensively. He was great on the penalty kill and defensively — all of those things. He very much looks like he is ready to go.
You said, earlier in camp, that William Nylander sometimes needs a push but often gives himself a need push. Based on what you have seen and learned about him, how would you describe his internal drive and internal fire?
Keefe: I think he shows just how committed he is every day he comes to the rink in terms of the work he does off of the ice. He always wants to be the first guy on the ice. He is putting in his extra work. Even if we go back to when we were playing in the regular season, he is a guy where we would schedule off days and he would find his way into the facility to get on the ice and work on different things. He is a very committed guy and wants to succeed.
I think we have seen great growth in his game that we have been really happy with. He has had a camp here where I have been pushing him because I think he is capable of more in our practices and scrimmages and our game the other day. I am expecting him to raise it to another level like he has shown he is capable of doing. Obviously, he is an important piece for us.
In your experience, how long does it take a team to have to work on a system to have to grasp it?
Keefe: I don’t know if there is any real timeline. I think every situation is different. Obviously, in this situation — with what is at stake, and given that we are playing very meaningful games starting on Sunday — there is a heightened awareness in everything that you are doing. My expectation is we will pick it up quicker than normal.
We are not going to make any excuses here or anything like that. We have had plenty of time to practice. We expect our guys to be prepared to execute.
Last week, Columbus put their intra-squad game on YouTube. They are playing tonight as well. Tyson Barrie said you are going to hammer them with video tomorrow. How difficult has it been to scout the opponent given you haven’t played them since October?
Keefe: It really hasn’t been that difficult, to be honest. We have had more than enough time. We have watched more than enough video. Even just going back to last summer and looking at the job they did in the playoffs last year, out of my own curiosity, I had watched all of those games. This time last year, I was watching their playoff series against Tampa and Boston. That is fresh in my mind.
We have lots of great video there to show what they are capable of. They have some players that are no longer with their team, but the core of their team has really remained the same. Players that really make up who they are and how they want to play remain there. Their leadership is clearly there. They had great success this season as a team despite a pile of injuries.
There is no shortage of video available. We will go to the game tonight and it will give us something to do this evening, but really, the bulk of our work has already been done and we will be prepared on Sunday.
On Tuesday, did you find the game was able to find its regular game-day routine? How different was it?
Keefe: Whether it is 7 or 8 o’clock, it is not entirely different. We are not too concerned about that. I do think that the extra hour does drag on a little bit. Probably the biggest difference is just the way things are scheduled. Our morning skate time that we had allotted to us was 9 o’clock in the morning, which we deemed to be too early and didn’t bother going to the rink for that time. We stayed here at the hotel and had our meetings in the morning. The players had a bit of a stretch and had that routine, which is not uncommon for us — on the road, especially.
It was good to have that day to get used to such a routine. We will have a very similar routine on Sunday. As we move along in the series, we have a 4 o’clock game in Game 2, which in itself is a bit of a different animal. We prepared for that with a 4 o’clock scrimmage before we came out here.
Our guys will be ready. The big thing that we told them is that nothing is going to be exactly the way you expect it to be or like it has been in the past. We are going to have to embrace that.
Tyson Barrie was saying he was almost relieved to get another opportunity to play again this summer after what he described as an up-and-down season for him. What have you seen from him with his mindset and demeanor here for the last two-and-a-half weeks since you’ve all been together?
Keefe: I think he has been good. We have been impressed with him since he arrived here. He was one of our late arrivals into Phase 2. He was probably our last regular player to arrive. There was so much good work happening in Phase 2 with our players that we were anxious to see what Tyson was going to be like where he arrived and where he was at with his conditioning and skill work. He put in a lot of good work back home himself and it was very clear that he wasn’t behind in any way. That was very positive for us to see.
There has been a lot of encouraging signs here that he is ready to go just like the rest of our group.