After practice on Saturday, Sheldon Keefe discussed the plan in net for the back-to-back against Calgary, the consistency of the team’s blue line corps this season, what the coaching staff likes about balanced units on the power play, and Jason Spezza’s incredible production in limited minutes.
How is Jack Campbell feeling coming off of the workload last night?
Keefe: He is good. We just gave him a maintenance day today.
With the back-to-back, will he start tomorrow?
Keefe: Michael Hutchinson will start tomorrow. We were going to start both guys. We were going to use both of them. We thought it made sense to give Jack the extra day.
Justin Holl wasn’t on the ice today. Was there a reason for that?
Keefe: Just a maintenance day for him. He has been a little bit sore here for a while. We decided to give him the extra day. He will be fine.
In terms of Campbell’s development, it has taken him a while to get to where he is today. What potential do you see in his game to sustain what he is doing on a long-term basis?
Keefe: I think we can only go off of what we have seen here. I would say the potential is great. He is gaining more confidence. He is gaining more experience. As we have talked about it, we have to continue to be smart with how we manage his workload despite the fact that we don’t have Frederik available.
We still have to be smart with Jack here. That’s why we will give him the extra day here as the schedule allows it. Hutchinson will go in and Jack will get his opportunity again.
The club has gotten some stability on its blue line. Everyone seems to know their role and be comfortable in them. How much has the defensive stability helped your goaltending overall this year?
Keefe: It is a game-to-game thing. It goes both ways. There have been times when the goaltending hash helped the team and the defense out greatly. There have been times when the team has certainly insulated and helped the goaltender.
If we look at it and make generalizations over what has happened over the course of the season, I think we have played good team defense. I think we have limited the number of high-danger chances that come. We have reduced the volume of shots and chances against this season. Those are all things that were a priority for us coming in.
Inevitably, there are breakdowns. We saw it last night. I thought we played a pretty good game last night and didn’t give up a great deal, and yet there were some really high-end chances there with very dangerous shooters. Soupy was outstanding there for us. There was some backdoor stuff where he has got to really compete and get over to make a big save.
All of our goaltenders have done that. Andersen has had some tremendous saves at times when we have needed them, and Hutch as well. You need your goaltenders to be there to make the big saves when you have the inevitable breakdowns. But I think it is fair to say our team as a whole has helped that cause.
Do you find it remarkable what Jason Spezza is doing production-wise given it is mostly fourth-line minutes for him?
Keefe: With his skill set, it gives him a great opportunity to make a difference there. No matter who he has played with, he has found ways to produce.
I happen to believe that the fourth-line minutes and the matchups he has been given help his cause. There is a natural sense to give him more, but I think he is in a good place. It helps our team when he can produce where he is. When you start stretching it and maybe asking for too much, it may hurt more than help.
I think he has really done a good job for us. The production is a big piece of it, but within the role he has played lower in the lineup and on the penalty kill, he’s done a good job defensively of being reliable there. That is really where he has had to grow the most at this stage in his career — those details defensively. He did that for the most part last year as well, but this year, he has really embraced the entire role and what has come with it.
With his talent level, does the calibre of opposition he is playing against help as well given he is going to have an advantage with the skill set he has?
Keefe: I think so. That is what I am alluding to. There are some matchups there.
Last night, I talked about how when you are preparing to play against us, I don’t think Jason is at the top of the list of guys they are talking about. He goes under the radar a bit that way, and teams let their guard down a little bit when he and his line are out there. Whether it is the favourable matchup, or sometimes when they’re playing against better players, they maybe let their guard down a little bit because they’re not going up against Matthews or Tavares.
Suddenly, there are some opportunities that become available there. I think there is some advantage to that when you have some skill at the bottom of the lineup that way. He has certainly capitalized on it.
You mentioned you are going to give the two power-play units some runway moving forward. What do you like about John Tavares with the Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner group that makes you want to have him there?
Keefe: It just gets him more involved. John had a lot of success with us playing in that role. As much as we have gone to two units and we want to two units be competing — we thought that was successful for us early in the season — we have essentially just swapped out Thornton and Tavares for those spots on the unit with Matthews, Marner, and Simmonds.
I think John has proven over his career that he is a very productive player on the power play. We like his ability there and we like his ability on faceoffs. I am really hoping we can get those two units really firing, pushing each other, and making it hard on the opposition. I think that was a big part of our success early. That is something we really wanted to have at the start of the season.
At the different times we have gone with Nylander, Tavares, Matthews, and Marner together, we see reminders of the things we didn’t like when we look back on last season, and what we want to change. It is not necessarily what it does to the power play. There is a trickle-down effect to the habits and energy throughout the entire team throughout the power play and coming out of the power play.
We’d like to give it another shot here with the two groups pushing each other and making it hard on the opposition knowing that the second unit is coming over the boards. We just played a Winnipeg team that has one unit that is extremely dangerous and plays a little more than the second unit, but that second unit — you have Ehlers and Dubois coming over the boards on the second group — is extremely productive and it doesn’t give you any time off. You have to kill the full two minutes all the way through. It is a daunting task when you are trying to prepare for it.