After day five of training camp, Sheldon Keefe discussed the new power-play units, Auston Matthews’ defensive ability and potential role on the penalty kill, and Wayne Simmonds’ impact on the team.
Sheldon Keefe on day five of camp, Saturday’s Blue & White game
It was our first day on the ice with special teams after some meetings and getting set to that end. We had a short practice — 30 minutes — for more of our 5-on-5 play. It took a little bit of time for us to shake the cobwebs off a little bit after recovering from three hard days and then being off the ice yesterday. After the first 10-15 minutes, our guys were really moving and competing. It was really great to see.
It carried through to the special teams. I thought we got some really good work done today. Manny Malhotra and Dave Hakstol both did a really nice job of getting the guys prepared to have a day like this so everything ran smoothly on the ice. That was really positive.
We are transitioning now into our game day tomorrow. We will go down to Scotiabank Arena and have a morning skate there tomorrow. We will keep the separation like we have here in terms of Group 1 and Group 2. We will continue with that for the morning skates tomorrow, and then we will blend the two groups for the game tomorrow.
Generally speaking, it will replicate an exhibition game — not a scrimmage, more like a traditional exhibition game in terms of how things will flow. There will be three 20-minute periods. What we will do differently, though, is have shootouts at the end of the first and second periods. Regardless of the score, we will play five minutes of three-on-three overtime. It will be cut short, obviously, if someone scores, but those are some of the things we are going to add to the game.
In terms of the goaltending, what we are going to do is that the three goaltenders — Andersen, Dell, and Campbell — will each get two periods tomorrow. You will see Andersen play two periods for one time. You will see Dell play a period each for both teams. Campbell will get both periods for one team as well.
An update on Alex Kerfoot: He skated today, so that is a very positive sign that he is progressing. In terms of what it means going forward, I don’t really know that, but the progression is a good thing for us.
Mark your calendar 🗓️
— Toronto Maple Leafs (@MapleLeafs) January 7, 2021
Toronto Maple Leafs Power Play Units
The first look at #leafs revamped power play units
— Chris Johnston (@reporterchris) January 8, 2021
Sheldon Keefe Q&A
Did you hear about the Dallas Stars’ Covid-19 situation, and did it underscore how careful you need to be?
Keefe: I did hear. It’s obviously unfortunate. We feel for those guys out there. It is just another reminder of what we are dealing with here with the virus. There is no shortage of stories from other sports as well. It is something that we have to remain very diligent about here. We have talked about it a lot with our players and our staff about the importance of it.
Not only because of the virus and what we are trying to manage with that across the world but within our season, there is also a competitive side with it. Any time you have to remove player within your group, you are at a disadvantage competitively. There are lots of reasons for us to remain diligent. It is going to take a lot of reminders and discipline towards it, but we have done a really good job to this point getting the buy-in from the players and the staff.
What is the rationale behind the new power-play units?
Keefe: The decisions around that are that we feel with the additions of Thornton and Simmonds, in particular, it gives us two guys who have lots to offer the power play. It is enough so that we feel like we can create two units and kind of separate the four forwards we utilized on the number-one unit last season. We want to give that a go here.
We like what it does in terms of the competitiveness of the two units competing against each other, the fact that we can remain more fresh, and have more urgency to the things that we do. But I don’t think we have seen the end of those four guys remaining together. I think you will see it at different times, too. We know we can go to it at any time. With how some of the line changes will flow, we will see that group come together at times as well.
We think it is really important to give our best players the proper opportunity on the power play. Sometimes, that means going over a minute at different times. We will adjust accordingly. For right now, we like having two competing units.
What do you think a guy like Joe Thornton can do for someone even a little older like John Tavares, who hasn’t really had someone like that around the entire time coming up, even with the Islanders?
Keefe: I think it is an excellent tool. John has said that right from the start before we even signed Joe. He himself was talking with Joe and about how it could look and work and benefit both of them and ultimately our team.
It’s not only him — there is Bogosian, Simmonds, and Brodie. The experience these guys bring adds a lot and spreads out the leadership. Having a team of leaders is really what you are looking for. No matter the age of the players, I feel like we have great support there.
In John’s case, having somebody else to bounce things off of or a different perspective from someone playing on a different line and is able to handle different things… not only just the players but the referees and different things, too. There are lots of benefits to it.
When you have Frederik Andersen playing in a contract year, do you worry about it becoming a distraction for the team as a whole?
Keefe: I don’t. Distractions are what you make of them. You have to stay focused on controlling what you can control. Whether you are in a contract year or not, that is the message to our team: Block out the noise and focus on what we can control every day. That’s all that matters. We don’t expect there will be any distractions here. That is on us to manage that.
You have been watching Wayne Simmonds play for a long time, presumably, back to when he was with the Flyers. What is it about a player like Simmonds that makes him someone a hockey coach really likes?
Keefe: I have been watching Wayne Simmonds for a lot longer than that. Back when he was a member of the Brockville Braves, he used to give it to our Pembroke Lumberkings quite a bit. There was never a dull moment competing against him. I think he might have been 16 or 17 at the time. You noticed him every time he was out there with how he competed and, offensively, the production he had. I have watched him and been a fan of his for a very long time.
He has just delivered on the things that you would expect: presence, energy, positivity, confidence in who he is, preparation. The work he has done to prepare for this season has been really showing. He brings a lot to the group. He is learning a lot about our coaching staff, how we want to play, his teammates — all of those things.
For all of our incoming players, there are adjustments to be made, but he is a great presence to have on our team. We are fortunate to have him.
What do you see out of Auston Matthews now to give him that penalty-killing opportunity?
Keefe: I don’t know if we would describe it as an opportunity or responsibility. Both things are kind of the same thing, I suppose. Auston has really established himself — in my mind, and for those who really watch him closely — as a dominant defensive player. With the work habits and competitiveness that he has, he is ready to take on more.
There are so many things that go into it. We think he adds a lot to the penalty kill when we use him. We are not going to use him on a full-time basis. Even just today, it is the first time I have ever seen him take a penalty kill rep in practice, and you could see the presence and the difference he can make.
We want to capitalize on that. We want to capitalize on the fact that he is strong in the faceoff circle. We want to also ensure that with whatever the game is bringing at a particular time — maybe we have to kill multiple penalties in a row and he sat for a long time — you have now the ability to use him, he knows what he is doing, and what the expectations are because he has practiced and prepared for it.
Sometimes, when the game is on the line and there is a very big moment, to not have a player like Auston involved in that and using his influence — that is something that doesn’t make you feel very good as a coach. Giving him these responsibilities, we think, makes us a better team.