Sheldon Keefe addressed the media after practice on Tuesday to discuss the Matthews vs. McDavid matchups this week, the play of the Justin Holl and Jake Muzzin pairing, and the team’s defensive structure in the last couple of games.
What do you think it means for the league to have guys like Matthews and McDavid playing against each other nine times this season? What are some of the similarities and differences between those two players that make them elite?
Keefe: They play very different games, but what makes them similar is that they are elite both at what their skill sets are — McDavid’s is speed, and Auston’s is the shot and goal-scoring ability, although as they have both gotten older here now and more experienced in the league, they are adding different layers and pieces to their game.
We have talked a lot about Auston. Connor is the same. They are special talents. It is fun, in our case, to coach Auston, but just to be on the bench for those games is great. All throughout the division, there is elite talent on every team. It is very exciting to go against these guys and have to game plan against them and all of those kinds of things. Yesterday, the players the Jets have, they are a challenge. The challenge doesn’t get easier here now with Edmonton.
How would you assess Justin Holl’s impact through four games?
Keefe: It has been good. He has found a way to get on the score sheet, but he’s come up with some big blocks on the penalty kill at different times. He and Muzz have done a good job there for us. I still think that he can find another level in his game into getting back to where it was last season and then building upon that. That is what we are looking for as more time elapses and they get more game reps and all of the rust is knocked off. We think that pair can continue to get better.
Is it safe to assume Frederik Andersen will start tomorrow?
Why was Travis Boyd not out there? Is it a roster management thing?
Keefe: Yeah, roster management. He was assigned to the Marlies. I’m not sure if there was an official move there, but he skated with them today.
Do you revert to the original 12 and 6 tomorrow night or stick with 11 forwards, 7 defensemen?
Keefe: No, we are going to stick with the same lineup. We liked what we were able to get out of Mikko yesterday and to be able to give him that experience. Having only one power play made it even harder to get him on the ice and get him some minutes, but we want to keep giving him that opportunity and that exposure.
I liked how the 11 forwards flowed. Like I said last night, there are some things about it that aren’t great, but I think the positives are enough, especially when we couple it with the fact that it allows us to get Mikko involved.
You were saying the team has come together more defensively and structurally in the last couple of games. How do you take that forward into two games against a club with a McDavid and a Draisaitl that hasn’t played up to its own expectations yet?
Keefe: It is going to be a great challenge for us. We know that. It was a test for us yesterday, even, with the calibre of forwards — even with no Laine — Winnipeg has and the speed they generate through the neutral zone. If you turn the puck over or you don’t have structure, they are going to come through and be very creative and make it very hard on you.
This team in Edmonton has speed and skill and creativity all throughout their lineup. Of course, you focus on their elite players, but they’ve got guys all throughout that, if we are not good defensively, can make us look bad.
It is a continued area of focus for us. We have seen great strides in that area in the last couple of games. Some of the areas have been consistent all throughout the four games that we have played, but in some areas, in the last two, in particular, the commitment has been really good. That is going to have to continue and get even better.
We talked about all of the positives today, but there are still things within the game last night that we didn’t like. We are trying to set a standard here that can set us up for sustained success. I don’t think we are there yet. We have to keep at it.