After practice on Tuesday, Sheldon Keefe discussed his new lines with Riley Nash, Nick Foligno, and Zach Hyman skating on regular units, what Nash adds to the lineup, and Frederik Andersen’s return to the NHL net.
Practice Lines – May 11
Lines at Leafs practice
Hyman – Matthews – Marner
Foligno – Tavares – Nylander
Kerfoot – Nash – Mikheyev
Thornton – Spezza – Simmonds
Rielly – Brodie
Muzzin – Holl
Hutton – Dermott
Sandin – Hollowell
— Mark Masters (@markhmasters) May 11, 2021
Leafs PP units at practice
Marner – Tavares – Matthews
Kerfoot – Thornton – Spezza
— Mark Masters (@markhmasters) May 11, 2021
Do you anticipate any of your injured players being available to you for tomorrow’s game?
Keefe: We have game-time decisions for Foligno and Holl. That would be it. Nash and Hyman are not available.
Is there anything further on Frederik Andersen’s status?
Keefe: It was another really good day for Fred today. He progressed from yesterday and felt good. He feels real good coming off of today. The plan is for him to start tomorrow in Ottawa.
What do you look for out of Frederik Andersen tomorrow night? It is going to be almost two months here since he has played in the NHL.
Keefe: I mean, Fred has played a lot of games in the NHL. He has a lot of experience. You are not going to read too much into any one particular game, just like you are not going to read too much into his AHL conditioning stint. This was all about him getting comfortable and feeling good when he leaves the net at the end of the day from a health perspective.
From our perspective, giving him those game reps and having him out there this close to playoffs is a positive thing. He is feeling good. I thought he was tremendous in these last couple of days on the ice. He has worked extremely hard to get himself back to being ready. His approach has been very good.
It is good to have him back. The guys will be excited to play in front of him tomorrow.
You seem set on instituting a checking line or shutdown third line from the jump this season. What excites you about the combination of Kerfoot, Nash, and Mikheyev? Is that a combination you always envisioned when you were drawing up plans that included what appears to be a potential shutdown third line?
Keefe: I don’t think anybody should read too far into what we saw on the ice here today because we have to play two more games in the regular season and all our players are not available for us. A lot can change between now and whenever the playoffs can begin.
What you could tell from the use of Hyman with Mikheyev and Kerfoot throughout the season — that line was a priority for us, and Hyman also serves the top six very well when he is there, too. We have both options with that.
With Nash, I think he has a lot of really solid defensive utility for us and can play against really anybody in the other team’s lineup. You can trust he is going to make good decisions with the puck and be in good spots defensively.
He obviously hasn’t played for a long time, and he hasn’t played for us yet. There is a lot of things to sort through there. In regards to today, I really just wanted to make sure he was able to get proper reps in practice.
That is important as we try to get both him and Hyman back and ready to play games. Today was their first full practice. It is our last full practice of the week. It was important to give them that opportunity.
Riley Nash doesn’t have a lot of time to acclimatize. What have you seen from him and his ability to fit into this lineup?
Keefe: As you said, there hasn’t been a whole lot of opportunity, but that has really started to ramp up this week and a little bit of last week as he has started to come around in a non-contact jersey. We wanted to have him and Hyman around the team again.
Riley is going to come on this road trip with us here to be around the team. But it is a strange season with a short amount of time between the deadline and the end of the season. When you acquire an injured player, you know what the circumstances are going to be.
He is a veteran guy with a lot of experience both in regular season and in playoff hockey. He is a confident guy who is very intelligent. He has a good demeanour about him and fits in well with his teammates. There are a lot of good things there that make us not overly concerned about the lack of time to adjust to new surroundings and new teammates.
It looks like you are going to be getting four or five days off between the last game against Winnipeg and the start of the first round. What is your philosophy as far as getting the rest? If you can pick a day to start the playoff round, what would the day be?
Keefe: The ideal date is whatever it is they tell us it is going to be. What I say or think is irrelevant. We have to deal with what we have in front of us. If it ends up being the 19th or 20th or something in that neighbourhood, we just have to be ready.
It gives us enough opportunity to prepare, of course. Preparation isn’t going to be much of an issue given that, no matter who our opponent is, we have played them lots this season and seen a ton of them in the division.
It is time to get proper rest, which hasn’t been a big problem for us. Our schedule has been pretty favourable for us in that sense in the last little bit. But is a good transition. We will be prepared whenever the games are. Whenever they tell us to play, we will be ready to go.
Did you have a chance to speak to John Tortorella about either Riley Nash or Nick Foligno for some extra insight?
Keefe: No, not specifically. Obviously, we have Paul MacLean on staff who worked with Torts, Riley, and Nick in Columbus — and even Nick in Ottawa. We have more than enough there. Of course, we played against him in the playoffs in the bubble last season. We were not short on information.
With them, they were two very important parts of the culture and the way Columbus plays with how difficult they are to play against. That is what made us excited to add them to our group.