After practice on Monday, Sheldon Keefe discussed how Auston Matthews’ wrist injury is affecting his game, the challenge coming up in the three-game series against Winnipeg, Wayne Simmonds and Jack Campbell’s status in their progress towards a return, and the play of the HEM line.
Practice Lines – March 8
#Leafs lines at practice:
— Kristen Shilton (@kristen_shilton) March 8, 2021
Auston Matthews was saying earlier he would like the injury that has been affecting him to heal a bit better. Where are you seeing that affect his play if at all? He is not scoring goals like he was, but he is getting opportunities and shots on net.
Keefe: It is clear it affects his shot. We have moved him around on the power play as a result of that. He is not as comfortable with shooting. I think he has shown he is really good in a lot of other areas. It doesn’t seem to be affecting his ability to handle the puck and pass the puck.
He is dealing with a couple of things: the mental effect that not being 100% himself has on his game, and then the fact that he has missed time. If you miss time, you lose your rhythm and it throws you off a little bit.
He has found ways to generate chances and shots. He has made plays for his linemates. He is bringing a lot of positive things for us. In time, it is the type of injury that will heal itself. He just has to work his way through it. It is fortunate to this point that it is not the type of thing that is going to get worse. It is something he has to play through for a little bit, and he has been doing a good job of that.
How do you break down this Jets group?
Keefe: They’re really deep. They had a deep forward group before. When we played them, they didn’t have Laine in the lineup at the time. Of course, now they have made the move there and Dubois has come in.
If you look at their depth at center 1-2-3, there is a lot there that is the foundation of real great depth throughout the lineup. Even Stastny has the ability to play center if they need him to. It is a very deep forward group.
On defense, they were missing guys the last time we saw them, too, so we will have a different-looking defense than we saw last time.
They’ve got a lot of confidence. They have been playing very well as a team and winning a lot of games. They have moved up to second in the division. It is obviously a very big and important series for us here. I think we have nine games remaining against Winnipeg this season, so they are all going to be important.
The North Division has a lot of high-end scoring forwards. How has your team met that challenge? What do you see as the positives and improvements you need to make playing against those high-end forwards?
Keefe: Obviously, what we did in Edmonton is a real good example of how we need to play against elite forwards. We definitely have had good practice of that to this point in the season. Really, every team in the division has their own stars and dangerous players. Winnipeg certainly has an abundance of those forwards as well.
We just have to stay with that model and be consistent with it — be responsible with the puck, and when we don’t have it, look to have as many numbers as we can above the puck and make it hard on them.
Other teams are starting to do the same thing to us and we have seen that. Calgary and Vancouver have made it hard on us to generate offense. I just think that teams are settling into the season and their systems and are getting to know all of their opponents that much better. We have to make sure that we continue with it ourselves.
We saw Wayne Simmonds on the ice earlier today. Is there any update you have on his progress? Where is Jack Campbell at it in terms of how he is feeling and whether you expect him to be available this week?
Keefe: With Simmonds, the update with him is that the cast has come off now. He is able to do a lot more. My understanding is that the bone is healed. It is just a matter of him now rehabbing and getting his full function back, be comfortable handling and shooting pucks, and things like that. He has been skating and was skating while we were away.
He has been making progress in that area. It is just a matter now of when he gets his strength back to be comfortable in doing the things he needs to do. He obviously didn’t practice with us today. We will see as the week progresses whether he joins us at all. It just depends on how he is responding.
Jack Campbell had a real good day today. He got through a lot more stuff on the ice in our practice. He continues to be day-to-day. We will have to see how he is tomorrow and how it affects whether he will back up Fred or not. In terms of how the week progresses, I think it just going to be a day-to-day thing, but today’s practice was a real positive sign to have him up there with us.
Does the expectation for the Mikheyev – Engvall – Hyman line change now that the team is back home with the last change?
Keefe: It changes a little bit. We are able to control the matchup a little bit better. When you are on the road, it is a little bit more of trusting them, putting them over the boards, and having confidence that no matter who the opponent counters with, we could be confident that they will do the job.
We may look to pursue different matchups at home here now. Whether we started them in the d-zone on the road or if they were played in the offensive zone, they were able to do a lot of good things and make it hard on the opposition.
We like a lot about the looks of the three of them. It is the first opportunity to really use it on home ice. I will get a chance to experiment with that a little bit.
In your experience, can the first game back after a long road trip out West be tricky for a team? If so, how can you combat it as a coaching staff?
Keefe: It is something we are conscious of. We have looked at it over the years. Some of it may be in our heads. The actual stats and history of teams coming back from the West home don’t really show it to be too big of an issue, but it is something we are conscious of for sure. We are trying to make as many adjustments as we can.
Today, we practiced later than we normally would at 1 p.m. just to allow for an additional hour for guys to adjust to the time change. We stayed the night in Vancouver and traveled back yesterday to try to keep our sleep cycles as normal as possible. There are things to be mindful of.
I thought today’s practice was really good. We got lots of good work in with lots of good skating. That is an important part of it, too. The fact that we had an extra day is important. Because of the steps that we have taken and what’s at stake as we go into the game tomorrow, we expect the guys to be at their best.