On an off-day for the team, Sheldon Keefe discussed the plan for Riley Nash, William Nylander’s status, the camaraderie around the team this season, and whether Monday’s trade deadline is weighing on the players’ minds in the final hours.
What are you expecting from Montreal tomorrow? Given that they might be a playoff opponent, how differently do you look at the games against them down the stretch?
Keefe: I don’t think we would look at it any differently. We take each game as they come. We are playing every opponent here so many times that you’ve had sort of a playoff-type preparation as you are going through each opponent. It would be no different.
In terms of what we would expect, we would expect them to bounce back from yesterday. At the same time, I look at it, and it looked like it was a tale of two games last night for them. It was 0-0 halfway through the hockey game. They are a team that works and is competitive and makes it hard to get to the net.
All of those things we have come to expect from most of our opponents here. It seems to be a similar recipe for each game for the most part.
Definitely, we would like to be better than we were yesterday.
What is the plan with Riley Nash in terms of him coming up to Toronto and going through the quarantine?
Keefe: My understanding is he is traveling up with his wife and newborn tomorrow to begin that process. He is excited to get up to Toronto and kind of get that moving. As I said yesterday, the priority for us is to get him healthy. That is going to take time. We will be happy to have him around once he gets through his quarantine.
In the next couple of days, as he gets ready to come back, will William Nylander be able to skate on his own?
Keefe: I don’t know that. I am not sure on how that works and what the process is coming out of the protocols. I haven’t had that conversation yet. We will continue to take it a day at a time in terms of getting the information. Our medical staff and trainers are doing what they can to keep him active — not unlike in any of the other pauses and quarantines that have gone on.
Are you going to split the goaltending duties in the back-to-back on Monday-Tuesday? Have you made any decisions on the order of who starts?
Keefe: We are definitely going to split the duties. We haven’t quite decided yet on how it will look in terms of who will get what game. We will get through today, a morning skate in tomorrow, and make a decision then based on how Jack is feeling. It has been very positive in terms of how he has responded to each of his games here recently.
What is the feeling like in the lead up to the trade deadline in the locker room? Whether the team is doing well or not, there can be anxiety.
Keefe: I think each year and each team is a little bit different. The vibe I get in the conversations I have had with the team: It really hasn’t been a factor this season with this team. The guys are just going about their business. It doesn’t seem to be weighing on the team in any way. Even the curiosity of it isn’t much of a factor. The guys are just going about their business.
The schedule has been really busy, so there isn’t a whole lot of time to think about much other than your opponent and resting up for the next game. I really haven’t sensed it being an issue or any of the anxiety you are talking about there.
Jake Muzzin said that this is the tightest group he has been with since he arrived in Toronto. Why do you think the chemistry has been good this season?
Keefe: There are a lot of things. We are obviously very purposeful about who we added in the offseason and what we thought they might bring to the dressing room — the personalities, in particular, of Thornton, Simmonds, Bogosian. In general, I think our team is just older and more experienced — not just the players we brought in, but all of the players that have returned are obviously a year older.
We have won a lot of games. I don’t know what comes first, but I do know the spirit of the team has been very good and very healthy. It is a little bit easier to do when you are winning games as we have. Even when we went through that tough stretch, I really felt that the group remained confident in themselves and their personality off the ice and away from the games. It remained the same. That was a very encouraging sign for us with what we are building here with the team and the camaraderie of the group.
That is an important piece. It is a key ingredient to any winning and successful team: that type of feel. The guys certainly have it. That’s part of it, and when the puck drops, you have to make sure you do the work.
What was the thinking behind getting into Montreal early and staying off of the ice today?
Keefe: In terms of staying off of the ice, it is really just a matter of us managing the schedule here — not just with what we have been through but with what is coming. It is a busy schedule here with back-to-back games and not a lot of time before we play again. Before long, we are traveling West. There are lots of games coming.
We are really managing that. Our practice time will be very limited here over the next little while. We will mainly just have morning skates when the schedule allows. That is part of it.
The other part of getting here to Montreal: The biggest factor is Masters Sunday. It is as big of a day as there is on the calendar for a lot of our guys. We wanted to make sure our travel didn’t disrupt their ability to watch that. That is really it.
How do you feel now that the Vancouver situation seems to be settling and you know what your schedule is going to be?
Keefe: I am happy it seems to be clearing up. If they are taking steps like this, it speaks to things perhaps being encouraging in Vancouver with their players, which is the most important thing. Having a little more clarity as to how it impacts the schedule is nice. To be honest, it wasn’t really anything that was overly concerning or was taking up too much of our time. Whenever they tell us to play the games, we will be ready to go.