After practice on Wednesday, Sheldon Keefe discussed Auston Matthews and Jack Campbell’s injury status, how the team decides whether to rest a key player versus have him play through injury, the team’s mindset about the three-game losing skid, and the penalty kill’s recent dip.
Practice Lines – March 10
#Leafs lines at practice:
— Kristen Shilton (@kristen_shilton) March 10, 2021
Do you expect Auston Matthews to be back tomorrow?
Keefe: Yeah, it’s just a maintenance day for him today.
Is there an update on Jack Campbell and how he is progressing?
Keefe: We didn’t get an update today. From watching him on the ice, it looked like another good day. I spoke with him pretty briefly, but I usually don’t ask players about how they are feeling or their health or anything like that. It is more just checking in with him and saying hello. It is left to the medical people to make those determinations. Jack continues to progress from my sense of it.
Morgan Rielly was asked about playing through injury last year, and he made it sound like if he were to do it over again, he would take more time off than he did. He wasn’t speaking on Auston Matthews, but that was the context. How do you as a coach walk the line between the advantages of having a player play even if he is injured versus the advantages of having him sit and be more healthy later?
Keefe: I really don’t walk that line. I don’t get involved in players’ injury situations. Their health is in the hands of our doctors and our trainers. Collectively, with the player, they make a decision on whether or not he can play. A lot of that goes into whether the player is at risk of making it worse if he were to play. The player’s best interest is always put forth.
Each case is unique to itself. It all depends on what the situation is. In Auston’s case, while it is affecting different areas of his game, he is still able to do a lot of different things out there. In fact, he wanted to skate today. We just thought today was a big opportunity for him to take a little bit of a rest day.
It speaks to his commitment and his ability as a player to be able to adjust to it. It is not the type of thing where taking a game or two off is going to allow it to fix itself. I think a lot of players throughout the league are going through it, but you don’t hear about it as much as you would in Toronto with such a great player.
You weren’t on the ice very long today. Is that a reflection of faith in the system that only a little bit of a refresher was needed? Was there something in the video room that we didn’t see?
Keefe: We had a meeting, of course. We had a discussion. I feel like we got some good work done there. I also felt like, in a short amount of time on the ice, we got a lot of work done. We got right to it. When we have a day like this, you really take out the fluff practice — the warmup, all of those kinds of things — and get right to what you really need to get done.
That was about today was about: really continuing to manage the schedule as we go through the season. On these practice days in between games, especially, you can’t keep the guys out there for very long and expect them to have the energy to perform. The priority was just to get the work done we needed to get done and get the guys out of here.
Every team is going to go through ups and downs over the course of the season. What is your sense of how the team has responded to this latest speed bump here between what you see behind the scenes and what you saw in practice today?
Keefe: I thought we got good work done here today. It is always tough to come in a day after a game win or lose because there is a quicker turnaround. After playing a game, you get to sleep late at night and you come in and you are starting all over again. That is a bit of a grind for players — understandably so — and even more so when you are losing.
That is why I felt it was important that we skated today. I thought we skated hard for 20 minutes and got done what we needed to get done. I think the guys are leaving the ice and the building here today feeling good and refocused and ready to go.
I don’t think there is any sense of panic here or anything like that. At the same time, we have had very open discussions about things that we have done here that have contributed to us losing versus the things that we did in Edmonton, as an example, that contributed to us winning. The recipe is right there for us. We just have to go out and execute.
At the same time, we recognize there are other good teams in the league as well. This Winnipeg team has every bit of confidence that we would have as a team with what they have done in the regular season to date. They are obviously very hungry, very talented, very deep, very capable of beating us like they did yesterday, and capable of beating us again if we can’t get our game right and consistent all the way through from start to finish.
Mitch Marner had mentioned the penalty kill. Is there a specific area of focus when it comes to the PK and getting it back on track?
Keefe: It is an interesting thing with the two Vancouver games and the game the other night. We were seven seconds away from getting a second consecutive penalty kill of the period [vs. Winnipeg]. We didn’t get it done. We have looked a lot at it here. It has been a factor in us losing these games in the last three.
We felt really good about a lot of the things that we have done. Before we went to Vancouver, we had the #1 penalty kill in the division. We were feeling pretty good about the things that we were doing. It just goes to show it can get away from you quickly and impact games.
We just have to get back to it and be really responsible to get through kills and get them finished. We have had a number of them this season where in the last 20 seconds or so, after we had done a lot of good things, it ends up in our net. The first one we gave up from the bad angle in Vancouver — that was an unbelievable kill for us. In fact, we had opportunities to extend our lead, and all of a sudden it is in our net.
We have to just stay with it. I think that is the biggest thing: stay with it to the very end, compete to the very end. We will continue to clean up the details, but we can’t ignore the fact that there had been a number of positives that had been happening prior to the last three games.