After practice in Vancouver on Saturday, Sheldon Keefe discussed the return of William Nylander after quarantine, Nick Robertson joining a line with John Tavares and Nylander, Rasmus Sandin joining the team for the road trip, and the decision to load up the top power-play unit.
Practice Lines – April 17
#Leafs lines at practice
extra: Engvall, Brooks
Extra: Marincin, Liljegren Sandin
— David Alter (@dalter) April 17, 2021
Leafs PP Units
— David Alter (@dalter) April 17, 2021
What are Auston Matthews and William Nylander’s statuses? Have you picked a starter for Sunday night?
Keefe: Jack Campbell will start. In regards to Auston and Will, we will have to see how they feel after skating. They got through the practice well today, so that is very positive. We won’t know their official status until we see how they are through the remainder of the day and how they wake up on Sunday.
What is the status of the players coming out of quarantine over the next few days — Foligno, Nash, Hutton?
Keefe: I am not sure what days they are coming out, but once they come out, we’ll have to see where they are at and if they will join us on the road.
When you do get William Nylander back, in what ways does he boost the group, both at 5v5 and on the power play?
Keefe: His skill and production is something to brings to us a lot, be it 5v5 or the power play. He gives us a boost in those areas. In this time we’ve played without him, I think some areas of our game have really slowed down.
It has been very apparent that when you take out someone like Will with his strengths — how he brings the puck up the ice, how he gets through the neutral zone, how he attacks the blue line — those are all areas that we have really dried up. We haven’t had nearly as much control of the puck. I think that is something he does very well for us. It will be nice to have that back.
What has Nick Robertson shown you to maybe earn a shot higher up the lineup?
Keefe: He is playing with a lot of confidence with the puck and without the puck. He is skating hard. He is out there looking to make a difference. He doesn’t look overwhelmed by any means.
I think he is just getting more and more comfortable in the NHL. When he gets the puck, he is looking to make something happen. He is working and competing. He has been good defensively. There are lots of really good things I have seen from him for sure.
Based on the lines, it looks like you might be getting the band back together with that top-loaded power play. What is the thinking there?
Keefe: As we have gone through this stretch here, we have tried a little bit of everything, including having those guys together, and it didn’t work for us. We have looked at a number of different things here. We think that we probably would have gone to it sooner had we not lost Will and Auston.
We have been talking about going back to this look for a while now, but that got disrupted. I think the timing is right here now. With the fact that we had both yesterday to get some rest and then a practice day today, it is a good opportunity for us to get refreshed and start anew, if you will.
Rasmus Sandin is with the team now. Are you looking to work him into a game at some point on this trip?
Keefe: We will see how he responds here. He hasn’t played a game in a really long time. With both he and some others that were on the trip, you probably would’ve seen him with the Marlies if their season hadn’t have been disrupted here. We have had to adapt and make sure we keep him moving. It was nice to get him out there today with us, get him a good skate, and try to get him back up to speed. We will see how he continues to react to that.
I had definitely wanted to see him play for us before the season wraps up. The hope was that he would get significant time with the Marlies and minutes there to really get up and running. We are just adjusting to the situation here now and giving him what we can at this point. I don’t think he is quite ready to play in a game.
Travis Green was saying earlier it is going to be difficult for his team to get going, but he is not expecting less of an effort than they would normally give. How do you feel about what you might be expecting or facing from Vancouver?
Keefe: All that we can do is prepare our own team. That was our 100% focus today — just getting ourselves back and playing the way we are capable of in all areas of our game. We wanted to use that rest day and today’s practice day to get refocused again. That is the main focus for us.
In regards to Vancouver, I am fully expecting them… They are a gritty, resilient group that before this situation was playing as good of hockey as anybody in the division. I am expecting them to get back to their identity right away. That is all we can prepare for.
The biggest thing for us is just to get our game right and get ourselves right. We need to get a win here and do it by playing the way we are capable of.