After practice on Wednesday, Sheldon Keefe discussed the upcoming three-game series against Vancouver, his vision for the team’s fourth line, Pierre Engvall’s performances in his appearances this season, and the benefits of the time off and full practices this week.
What challenges is a three-game series against the same team, the Canucks, going to present, and how do you game plan for it? How much has Manny Malhotra been an assist in terms of intel as far as the Canucks go?
Keefe: I don’t think it is entirely different from a two-game set. You are playing an additional game, obviously, but in terms of our preparations, it is no different than what we have done in the previous two-game sets.
Having Manny here certainly helps us with the preparations. How we have gone about it here is that we have six opponents and we have been assigned one team to different members of our coaching staff. Assigning Manny to Vancouver was an obvious one. It certainly helps us, but the puck is going to drop and all of that stuff doesn’t matter too much when that happens.
Some of the players were saying they enjoyed having the video work before the practice today. What led to that? Is it something you might employ going forward?
Keefe: Really, today was just as simple as having a couple of things we wanted to cover on the penalty kill. It was easier just to do it on the ice and save the team from having to go through another meeting or a longer meeting off the ice. It was just a little more efficient that way.
I really like it. It is something we did a lot with the Marlies when I was there. It is something we would certainly do a lot more frequently here if all of you media folks agreed to turn the cameras off for us. I don’t think that is going to happen, so you probably won’t see a great deal of the TV.
What would your ideal fourth line look like?
Keefe: We would like a fourth line that is going to be defensively responsible, is able to provide energy for us, is going to win their share of shifts by spending time in the offensive zone, and then has elements of being able to help us on special teams. I think that is really what you are looking for.
I feel like we have pieces of that. Obviously, we have been moving things around. We will likely continue with that. Eventually, we hope to get healthy and see how it all shakes out. Those are the things you are looking for from that line for sure.
How would you assess Pierre Engvall’s season so far?
Keefe: In the games that he has played, I think Pierre has brought positive shifts to our team and to our game with his speed and the way he gets on the puck offensively and defensively. It really helps us.
Part of the opportunity he has gotten hasn’t fully allowed him to blossom and show what he can do. His penalty killing time has been reduced in the games he has been in. At the same time, a lot of players that are in his position — they didn’t start with the team — are trying to find their way. He is one of those guys.
We have talked to him a lot about being more engaged physically and using his size and his strength to make an impact on the game physically. We would like to see some improvement there.
By and large, he has done a good job with the opportunity that he has got. He has made a couple of really good plays that have led to either scoring or generating high-end scoring chances. There are lots of things to like there for sure. Despite the fact that he has been in and out of the lineup, we still value a lot of things that he brings.
Do you like him more as a centerman or a winger?
Keefe: I think there are parts of his game as a center that we really like: his ability to skate the puck up the ice, it seems like he never gets tired, and he can skate back from the offensive zone to our end as good as anybody we have. Obviously, we need him to improve in some other areas that don’t come naturally to him — faceoffs being the big one. It is a work in progress there.
We like that he has the ability to play center. We have seen him play well at center ice for us. I thought last year, in the Columbus series, when he came in, he did a really good job and that line was quite effective for us. We haven’t lost sight of that.
We also need Pierre to really grow into the role. I think a lot of these things are new to him for a guy who has been primarily an offensive player his whole life until coming into pro hockey here in North America and trying to find his way.
We have seen a lot of positive things that have put him in that position. There is still some growth there that he is finding his way with. As I said, we like a lot of things about him. When he is playing at his best, we like having him in the lineup.
How would you describe the progress that you have seen and how valuable this practice time has been?
Keefe: We think it has been excellent. We are really happy with the work that we have put in over the last few practice days for sure but even on the third day when it was more of a skills day for about half of our team. We built that out from Monday until now — each day with the skills sessions, then into some of the practice drills we did.
We have really been happy with it. We thought today’s practice was excellent. We still felt yesterday we were still feeling the effects of not just 10 games in 18 days but being out West and coming back with the two-hour time change and getting in as late as we did. All of that takes some time to get out of that fog.
I thought today’s practice, though, was excellent. We pushed the guys again today and they were skating, pushing, and their execution was good. The energy around the team was good. That is very positive, but obviously, we have to bring it to the ice.
We fully expect our team to take a step now having had some time to recover and rest a little bit and also address some things in practice. We are expecting to be a better team when we hit the ice tomorrow. That is our challenge now.