After practice on Tuesday, Sheldon Keefe discussed the plan for Alex Galchenyuk, the status of his injured players, Alex Kerfoot’s versatility this season, and the merits of the drop pass on the power-play breakout.
An update on Alex Barabanov and Scott Sabourin
Keefe: Their PCR tests from yesterday came back as indeterminate. Subsequently, they were sent home to await further testing. Since that time, their tests were run a second time and they have come back negative. Their situation here now is that if today’s PCR tests come back negative again — those results will be in the morning — they will rejoin the team.
An update on Frederik Andersen, on Joe Thornton, and Zach Hyman
Keefe: No further update [on Andersen]. It just continues to be day to day as he continues to be evaluated. We are just waiting for improvements.
[Hyman and Thornton] remain day to day. Nothing further. We are taking it a day at a time. We will see where everyone is at tomorrow.
Is Thornton’s injury related to the previous rib injury or is this something new that popped up?
Keefe: Different. This is lower body.
20 games in, how would you describe the identity the team has forged for itself?
Keefe: What I would say is that we have established that commitment away from the puck and defending with numbers gives us a chance to win every night. A lot of the details inside of that, we are still working at. I think that has been the foundation we have worked at since the start of camp.
It hasn’t been perfect through 20 games, but it has been the foundation to give us a chance to compete and be as consistent as we have been.
The Flames had a level of desperation and urgency last night. How hard is it to manufacture it or match it if it is not as pressing looking at the standings?
Keefe: You’ve got to do it through your own pride, accountability, and leadership as a team. We have got to find our own motivations. There is no further motivation than just looking at the standings and the division. We have been off to an excellent start here, but you are a bad week away from people catching you. By no means are we comfortable.
We have reinforced that message on the daily. We are paying a lot of attention to the standings despite it being so early. With every point remaining in the division, it is important that we are at our best all the time.
We are not comfortable around here at all. We have to continue to push and get better. There is still a lot of hockey to play.
Considering how good Matthews and Marner have been, it is easy to overlook the contributions Zach and Joe have had on that line. What are you looking for with whoever slots in next to those guys?
Keefe: The biggest thing you are looking for is somebody who allows those guys to do their thing and not disrupt it. The ways that you can disrupt it: When they get moving around the offensive zone the way that they do, you can’t get in their way. You have to have proper spacing and let them do their thing with how they move around.
Joe has done an excellent job of just attaching himself to the hash marks or below and playing down low. That is a big piece of it. It is just keeping the play moving when the puck comes to you to not disrupt the flow of the offense — to be able to have a good touch and put it to a good place to get it back or to get the play tape-to-tape, or whatever it might be.
You have to have those kinds of things. Energy, positivity, and all of those things that Joe brings and Hyms — work ethic, all of those habits — are important. Obviously, a lot of that line is driven by those two.
Have you found more versatility from Alex Kerfoot this year than maybe when you first took over?
Keefe: I think we realized there was great versatility with him. With the way he skates and the energy he plays with, he is good in all areas. He is a very open-minded guy. He is willing to take on anything that you give him. In that sense, he is a good guy to have because, when you face situations like this where your lineup is disrupted through injuries, you can move him around and people like playing with him.
Where do you see Alex Galchenyuk fitting in?
Keefe: We are going to give him an opportunity at some point here. He has bounced around here. He is trying to find a home and he is trying to solidify himself in the league again and within a lineup. We don’t want to rush and just put him in.
We think we need to give him an opportunity for success. There are a couple of things: finding the comfort level around here with his teammates, the staff, the system, and all of the surroundings. The other part of it is just his game. We think there are a lot of areas we would like to see him improve on and reconnect with his skill set.
We are in no rush despite the injuries we have here. We feel like the best thing for Alex is to really settle in and get comfortable and look to make improvements so that when his opportunity comes, he can be best prepared for it. I don’t think he is in a good place right now to just be thrown into the lineup. Today was really his first practice as a member of the team, and given it is the day after a game, we don’t get a great deal out of these types of practices.
We want to make sure that we can really work to develop his game and his confidence properly.
It seems every team is doing the copycat thing on the breakout with the drop pass. Your team does it. Are you married to that? How do you view that drop-pass breakout?
Keefe: The premise that goes with it, and why it has caught on so much in the game, is the recognition that if you are not properly organized on your breakouts and entries, you end up getting disrupted. You can rush the play and go quick and go with lots of speed, but if you are not properly organized and you don’t properly manipulate the penalty-kill forecheck, it is going to be very difficult to enter.
You are going to be scrambling, and when they ice it down, you end up breaking out two or three or four times on the power play versus getting organized and entering once. That is really the premise behind it.
It just so happens that the Maple Leafs, over the past few seasons, have been one of if not the best team in the NHL entering the power play. There hasn’t been a great deal of need to change it in that sense, but we are always looking at it. There are times where we want to speed things up. Sometimes, in the back half of the power play when the seconds are waning, you want to just make sure you give yourself every opportunity to get in.
Generally speaking, the first time it goes down the ice, we want to make sure we are properly organized so that we only have to do it once.