After practice on Sunday, Sheldon Keefe discussed Wayne Simmonds’ play since returning from injury, the team’s 6-1-1 record against Edmonton this season, the power play’s 0-for-18 dry spell, and more.
Practice Lines – March 28
#Leafs lines at practice:
SRS: Barabanov, Robertson, Sabourin, Hollowell, Liljegren
— Kristen Shilton (@kristen_shilton) March 28, 2021
Leafs PP units at practice
Matthews – Tavares – Marner
Nylander – Thornton – Spezza
So, Tavares & Thornton flip units@TSN_Edge
— Mark Masters (@markhmasters) March 28, 2021
To what extent does Veini Vehviläinen become a part of the picture here? Is there any update on Frederik Andersen?
Keefe: Nothing more on Fred yet. I’ll have that update for you when I get more information on it.
In terms of Double V, it is just a chance for us to get a look at him. He hasn’t been on the ice very much. He obviously hasn’t played very much this season. I think we have been through a lot with our goaltenders this season. The more guys we have available to us, the better.
We will just take it a day at a time and allow the organization to get more familiar with him and allow him to get more familiar with his surroundings.
Was Jack Campbell on a maintenance day today?
Keefe: Yeah, just a maintenance day.
Would you prefer that Jack be not as hard on himself going forward? A few of those goals the Oilers put together were tough to stop. Jake Muzzin was saying earlier that Jack can be a tough critic of himself. If he is going to get the ball and run with it for a while, what do you think of his self-assessment?
Keefe: I think that is important. You’ve got to be even-keeled, especially the more you play. You have to recognize there are going to be ups and downs. I think Jack definitely feels like he wasn’t at his best last night.
That said, what gets lost in the game, if you go back to 3-2, McDavid was basically in alone on Campbell. He makes a huge save for us. At 3-3 with two-and-a-half minutes left, Darnell Nurse was in alone on a 2-on-1, and we got a huge save. Those are game-saving saves. He stood tall on those. If one of those goes in, we are leaving the game without any points and we are disappointed here today. You make those saves, and all of a sudden you get to overtime, you get a bounce and win in overtime, and the team is feeling really good about itself today.
There is something to be said about that: When it is time to make the save, you make it, no matter how you are playing. He did that for us last night. He has no reason to be hard on himself today.
Wayne Simmonds has been back now for four games. What are you seeing out of him since his return? What does a good game look like for Wayne right now?
Keefe: I think what I have seen from him is some really good things where he is calm with the puck, makes a good play and gets to the net. We have also seen times where you can tell he is a little bit off — his timing is off — as he is getting used to playing under pressure and all of those things that come with game action and take some adjusting to. We have seen some of that.
In terms of what a good game from him looks like: When the puck comes to him, it advances to either a teammate or to a good place where we can stay on it or stay on offense. He is obviously physical and he is engaged in the game. He is around the net, helping us at five-on-five and on the power play that way.
What did you like about the way that Galchenyuk – Tavares – Nylander played down the stretch last night?
Keefe: Lots of energy. Lots of speed. Lots of purpose. They just looked really committed to making a difference. I thought we had a pretty good period for a stretch in the third, but we were still waiting for something to crack. Those guys really started to come on. I thought that group, clearly with the goals, really stood out and made a difference that way.
You could kind of see it building with how they were playing. I thought Galchenyuk, in a lot of ways, really drove the line with the speed and the work ethic he had off of the puck. Those other guys had a little more space with it.
I thought John looked good throughout the game — had lots of good touches, lots of good opportunities to challenge the net. That was really positive as well. It obviously all came together in the third.
McDavid and Draisaitl are difficult to deal with on their own. When they are together, it is another ball game. How did you assess your team’s defensive job against that line last night?
Keefe: Obviously, not good enough. We have to be better. If you make a mistake when they are out there, they are that much more dangerous. It is not just one guy that you have to contend with.
You saw the way they paired up on the Draisaitl goal. I don’t know that there are many players in the league that can make that pass. I don’t know that there are many players in the league that can make that shot. I am not sure people would really appreciate just how difficult that shot is. There are maybe fewer than the five players in the world who would make that shot.
You’ve got the combination of the pass and the shot together, and it just goes to show you how dangerous it is and how good you’ve got to be.
You guys have a remarkable record against the Oilers this year. None of the games have been particularly easy, but is there anything that you can attribute it to in terms of how well you have played against these guys that you can bottle and take onto the rest of the season?
Keefe: As we just talked about, how dangerous their best people are really challenges us to be very focused and committed defensively in taking care of the puck and just having so much respect for the opponent.
The season brings strange things, too. The way it works out in the schedule sometimes, things go your way, bounces go your way, and you find ways to play really well against certain teams. You are just feeling really good when those games come on the schedule.
With some teams, you are maybe not feeling so well. Your record is not as good. If you look across the division, it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense in some of the situations. Some teams are really, really strong against certain teams and some teams struggle against others. I think that is just kind of the way it goes.
That is something I talked about with our staff before the season. I experienced that in the American League. At times, you are playing an opponent 8-9-10 times in a season. There can be great variance in the standings, and yet there is a certain team that no matter how you play — you can play your best game — you just can’t seem to get a win.
It brings some strange things, this schedule. These are obviously two very good teams at the top of the division in the standings. We have found a way to be on the right side of it, but as you mentioned, no game has been easy, and it never is.
Everyone knows that they have elite players who can make a difference, but they are playing a really good team game. Their depth around those guys is playing well. Their defense is really supporting their team offensively. They are defending hard. There are a lot of different things about their game that make it tough and certainly did make it tough on us until we found a way to break through in that third.
You appear to have tweaked your power-play units today. Is that just trying to find some momentum there?
Keefe: Pretty much. I actually thought our power play last night was probably as good as it has been for quite a while. We had a good practice day before last night’s game. I thought we had another good practice day today in terms of how we moved the puck around, in particular with that unit. We put John there today to give that a look as a way to get John a little bit more involved and have that option available to us.
There are a lot of really positive signs there with our power play. I think we are on the verge of getting it back into the net. As I said last night, I think we looked at the process and how things went, and we felt pretty positive about it. It gives us some confidence going forward. We do need to get results, of course. We need our power play to be a difference-maker for us.