Sheldon Keefe addressed the media after his team’s 3-2 victory over the Montreal Canadiens that clinched the North Division title.
On the keys to securing the division title:
There are a lot of things that go into it, of course. When I look at it, I look at where our team needed to grow this season and where our focus was. We felt really good about our team offensively and where we were at there, but we knew we had to get better defensively this season.
I don’t know where we were last season, but we were pretty close to the bottom of the league in five-on-five goals against. This season, we are up in the top five in the league. I would just put it right there: the team’s commitment to defending this season.
We’ve gotten good goaltending throughout this season as well. We had to use four goaltenders and we were able to keep the puck out of our net. I would say that was the biggest reason we were able to be as consistent as we were and have been able to maintain our spot at the top of the division.
On the team’s effort in the win tonight:
We weren’t good in the first period at all. That was disappointing. We wanted to come out here today. We knew Montreal was going to be a whole lot better with what is at stake for them. They had a day off yesterday, so we knew they would be better than when we saw them on the back-to-back the other night. I didn’t like our response in the first and how we came out in that period.
We had a good second period, of course, but it started out real bad for us. We dug ourselves a hole. Credit to our team. I guess that would be another thing that is an area where our team grew throughout this season: those types of games don’t get away on us. We get to work and climb our way back, and once we are ahead, we don’t give it up.
Credit to our team for responding. I thought, through the second and third periods, we had played well and managed the game well through that.
On whether there was a special message to the team in the room after clinching the division:
It was pretty short. It was really just acknowledging the fact that our goal coming into the season was to put ourselves in as good of a position as possible to go into the playoffs. We know what the goal is for the season. We know the hurdles we’ve got to get over to push through in the playoffs.
As I’ve said right from training camp, you can’t play the playoffs in game one of the regular season. You’ve got to go through the process and go along the journey. Through that, we want to make sure we put ourselves in the best position possible.
When we were in a good position, we wanted to make sure we secured it. I think that reflects where we are at in terms of trying our best to pull out lessons and growth through the regular season that can assist us in the playoffs.
We had to hang onto first place here and secure first place despite the fact we are competing with an Oilers team that didn’t seem to lose very much. We didn’t give it back. We found a way to get it done. That is a real positive sign for our team and I just acknowledged that.
On the team getting its first doses of the Covid vaccine on Sunday:
It is big and it is important. We are happy and fortunate that the vaccines are more readily available for us and for the community. To be able to get that here knowing what is ahead in the playoffs is good. It is an important step — not just for us, but the fact that more vaccines are available in the region is a really good thing for our city and our province.
On how the team is going to manage the next week-to-10 days in terms of rest and playoff preparation:
The first thing we’re going to do is take a day off tomorrow and get a chance to kind of regroup and really assess where our players are at individually. With the bumps and bruises and the guys that are kind of pushing through things, we will get a better handle on that. We will have conversations with the guys who play the most minutes.
To me, it is not as simple as just giving guys games off and things like that. We have to really manage it well. Sometimes we take too much time off, there is too far of a gap, and all of sudden, you jump into the playoffs and the play is going at a whole other level. You haven’t played in a week or more. That kind of works against you and defeats the whole purpose.
We’ve got to manage that, but we’ll make sure we are making intelligent decisions with where guys are at. I haven’t gotten the report coming through tonight’s game, but the guys who have played for us have been doing well and are healthy. Our schedule the last little while hasn’t been as demanding. It has probably been as light — in terms of time away and being at home — as it has been really all season for us. This week coming, despite being on the road, it is a lighter schedule.
To give you a shorter answer, we are going to make sure we have conversations and make good decisions, but I am not really pushing to give guys games off. It is just going to be dependent on their energy, health, and all of those kinds of things.