After practice on Wednesday, Sheldon Keefe discussed the plan in net in the coming days, the firing of referee Tim Peel by the NHL, the Thornton-Kerfoot-Spezza line, Pierre Engvall’s development, and the impact of Jason Spezza’s hockey IQ and experience on the team.
Practice Lines – March 24
#Leafs lines at practice:
SRS: Rubins, Hollowell, Sabourin, Barabanov, Scott
— Kristen Shilton (@kristen_shilton) March 24, 2021
Another day without Frederik Andersen at practice. What is the latest status on him? Is there any more of a prognosis as to when he might be back?
Keefe: There is no timeline attached to it other than I have been told not to expect him in under seven days or a week here. I guess it’s at least seven days. In my mind and the medical team’s, it is a day-to-day situation that they are monitoring. It is already starting to approach seven days. He is just continuing to monitor it and work through it.
Is it Jack Campbell in net tomorrow night and you’ll go from there?
Keefe: Yeah, we’ll take it one game at a time, obviously, and really, one day at a time. On off days and practice days, we have to monitor how it is. Soupy responded very well, it seems here, since he played the other night. That was a big test. It didn’t go that way the last time for him, but that is really positive and something we have to continue to be smart about.
He is going to have an opportunity to play more here now. We just have to make sure that we manage that well and not put him in positions where he may re-injure himself. As much as we can, we want to be smart with it.
As we said earlier this week, giving him an extra day off is a part of that. He will go tomorrow and we will take it a day at a time from there. Seeing how he is doing and how he is feeling, we’ll go from there.
The North Division was ticking along with no postponements due to Covid-19. Now there are four games postponed in Montreal. What does that hammer home to your group in terms of how volatile this can still be, even though the weather is getting nice and there is Covid fatigue?
Keefe: Yeah, it is just another reminder for us to remain diligent here. The virus is still very much a factor here, both with the health of everybody and also just the competitive side of it. I don’t know what is going to happen here now. Whether you are missing players for certain games or if games get postponed and they are sandwiched in on an already condensed and busy schedule, it becomes a competitive situation. It creates real challenges there. We want to do all that we can to not put ourselves in that situation for sure.
The other topic of conversation today is Tim Peel. As the coach, do you want to see the rulebook called the same way from the first game of the preseason all the way to the Stanley Cup? Is there that want of game management? Where do you stand on it?
Keefe: It is one of those things where really what you are looking for is consistency throughout each game. That is the big thing. I have been around the game long enough to sort of know that each game is different. You want consistency throughout that game.
Officiating is an extremely difficult job to manage in such a fast sport with so much happening on the ice. Those guys do their best game-to-game. As coaches and players, you don’t always love what is happening on the ice, but that is all just a part of the emotions of it.
The officiating community and the NHL do a great job of trying to improve the standards and the consistency throughout. That will remain, I’m sure.
What do you like about having Joe Thornton and Jason Spezza together? That is an awful lot of hockey history and hockey smarts on one line.
Keefe: You just about answered the question there for me in terms of the intelligence those guys have and the experience those guys have to go with the speed, the legs, and the defensive abilities that Kerfoot brings to that line as well. There are a lot of really good things there. It allows me to keep those other two lines — the Tavares line and the Matthews line — together, and Hyman and Mikheyev have been a really good line for us, too.
It’s part of the whole piece of how things just kind of fall into place. Through the games and then a week of practice here now, I have really liked that line, in particular, and the way that Joe and Spezz are communicating, talking, and want to succeed together. Having two guys who I am sure have a great admiration for each other and their careers playing together, you can see the excitement around it.
You mentioned a few weeks ago that you wanted to start the season by being a bit harder on Pierre Engvall because of the potential that he has. You didn’t want to hand him anything. Why did you think that was the right approach with him? How has he met that potential over this recent stretch?
Keefe: The reason for the approach is that I have coached Pierre for a long time here now — or at least, a lot longer than just the NHL time, with the Marlies and what we went through with the Calder Cup run — and I think Pierre shows the ability to play and make an impact on the game with his size, his skill level, and his speed. But there are a lot of other areas to his game — a lot of details to his game — that we want to see improve, his physicality in particular.
I just feel he leaves that piece on the table at times. There is more to give there. I think we are still working through that. That is all a part of it. It would be easy for us to just put him in the lineup to start. We knew we had a small window of time before he was not going to be eligible to go down to the taxi squad or Marlies. I thought it was an opportunity for us to make it really clear to him what the expectations and the standards are.
We also knew, at the same time that we were going through that, there would be a time when he would get his opportunity. We feel we are a better team when he is in the lineup, but we had to try to make him understand that there is more to the game that he can bring. At times, he has done it well. At times, it still isn’t where we would like it to be or where it could be in terms of how he can physically dominate a game if he chooses to.
That has not been a huge part of his game, especially coming over from Sweden, but as he is learning to become a player who can play a really defined role in the NHL, he is starting to understand just how important those things are. I thought we had a chance to really make that clear to him at the beginning of the season. It is something we continue to reinforce.
He definitely knows he is going to be in the lineup most nights and he is going to get a chance. He is creating great chemistry with other players on our team and is doing his job that way. Certainly, we don’t think he is a finished product.
Zach Hyman was telling us that Jason Spezza brought the second power-play unit over after and had something he wanted to try out. He watches so much hockey and sees things. In which ways have you seen Spezza’s hockey IQ be an asset for the group?
Keefe: In a lot of ways. You just described one there. He has a lot of experience. He has seen a lot of different things and has played for a lot of different coaches. He watches a ton of hockey. Whether it is the example you used in practice, on the bench, or in the dressing room — or even if you just pull him aside and ask him how he is doing — he is going to add some perspective there.
Jumbo is very much the same in that regard. On the power play, in particular, Manny Malhotra has really empowered those guys to take charge of their groups, push each other, challenge each other, and get on the same page.
There are things that we have been talking about as a group that we didn’t quite get to in the practice today. It is good to see them just wanting to make sure they got it before they left the ice. That is really good to see. Those are the kinds of things that are important for a team. That is why you want to have those guys with that type of experience and confidence in themselves to take charge of things.