After practice on Sunday, Sheldon Keefe discussed his situation in net ahead of the first round of the playoffs, the status of Zach Bogosian, the role of Riley Nash, the return of Zach Hyman, the plan on the power play, Rasmus Sandin’s role on the man advantage, and whether Joe Thornton’s desire to win a Cup before the end of his career resonates with the group.
Practice Lines – May 16
#Leafs lines at practice
Extra: Galchenyuk, Engvall, Brooks
— David Alter (@dalter) May 16, 2021
#Leafs working on power play early and they have changed it up.
— David Alter (@dalter) May 16, 2021
What is your plan for Game 1 in goal?
Keefe: Jack Campbell will start for us.
What did you see in him that led you to believe he has deserved this with how he has earned it down the stretch?
Keefe: Really, just the results he has gotten for us both in wins and saves, the confidence he has built for himself, and in turn, the confidence our team has in him. He has done a terrific job. That is his part of it.
The other part of it is just the circumstances surrounding Fred. He hasn’t played. In that time, Jack has played extremely well. He is definitely deserving of the opportunity to be in Game 1.
In net, how crucial is it to have the depth that you do? After Fred and Jack, you have David Rittich, who might start on a lot of teams in the NHL. How crucial is that if you have designs on a long run in the playoffs?
Keefe: It is really important for us. That is another area where the confidence of our team grows. Obviously, it is a tough decision that we had to make here. With Frederik, he has been a big part of our team and has been the guy in the playoffs. The circumstances around him make it a tough decision as it relates to Fred, but obviously, it’s not an overly difficult decision as it relates to Jack and the effort he has put in.
To have that confidence and that support underneath Jack here with someone of Frederik’s ability and experience… and then David Rittich, and beyond that, with Michael Hutchinson — we saw the job he did having to play in a tough spot in Colorado in the playoffs last year. Our depth and our confidence in our goaltending has grown significantly here over the last season and a half that I have been here.
What are the chances that Zach Bogosian might be available to you during the first-round series?
Keefe: In terms of the series, I think it is very positive as long as he continues to progress. It is a very good sign for us for him to be on the ice today. I haven’t gotten the report of how it all went medically from their side, but just from what I saw, he looked good and was doing a lot.
He was eager to be out there with the team today. That is a good sign. He will just continue to progress. We certainly think he will be an option in this series.
What made you want to go back to a more balanced-unit look on the power play?
Keefe: It’s something we probably would have gone to a little earlier had Hyman been available to us. We just wanted to give that a look. That is something we went to at the start of training camp and the season. We had a lot of success with it.
In a lot of ways, we are looking at this as a new season and a new opportunity to start fresh again. We are going to go with that. We haven’t seen the last of the look we have been using there before with the four guys there together with Willy and John joining Auston and Mitch.
Not unlike what we did at the start of the season, we had two balanced units, and yet, within each game, we also used that group as well. We just want to give ourselves increased options as we go into a playoff series where there is going to be a lot of back-and-forth happening.
With the gruelling schedule you have been through, is there a bit of an edge to getting some healthy players back for the start of the playoffs?
Keefe: Yeah, I think so. When Hyman got injured, in particular, you never like to play without Zach Hyman in your lineup, but I did look at it as positive that a guy who gives so much to every shift and every rep he gets — whether it is a practice or a game — to have the time to recover and be fresh for playoffs. I think it would be a real positive for him and our team because he is the kind of guy who doesn’t know any other way to play, so he is not going to self-regulate and turn himself down a little bit to leave some gas in the tank.
The injury slowed him down, of course, and he has put in lots of work to be game ready. We haven’t gotten the final clearance for him medically here yet, but I certainly believe we are trending that way. Another great practice for him today.
Within a schedule like this, if you have missed time, as long as you have put in the work to be game ready, I think there are some benefits to that. Of course, with our opponent, they are going to have a very similar situation there, so it probably even things out a little bit. I certainly think we are going to see a very prepared Zach Hyman.
What kind of freedom does a Riley Nash-led line give you in the playoffs in terms of deployment and such?
Keefe: It gives us options. I really like that, especially in the defensive zone with those responsibilities, and with penalty killing. With the experience that he has and the skill set that he has with his ability to be really responsible and consistent defensively, I think it brings a different look and a different option within our bottom six. I really like that.
With his injury situation, we were unable to get him into the lineup here. The fact that our regular season got pushed back a little bit — and thus the playoffs got pushed back a little bit — has helped his cause in terms of being ready and available at the start here.
We are going to get him involved right away and just rely on the fact that he is a very smart player, a very experienced guy — in the NHL and in the playoffs, in particular — and trust that he is going to fit right in.
Is there a skill in particular that Rasmus Sandin brings to the power play that makes him unique?
Keefe: A lot of it is poise to not panic under pressure in tight spaces, awareness, and the fact that his head is always up which allows him to make better decisions in terms of when to move the puck, where to move the puck, and when it’s time to shoot it. He has a great confidence about him. As a young player, he has the confidence to make the proper decision at the appropriate time.
Between he and Morgan, and even with Muzzin and Brodie at the times when we have used them, we have some good options there. We want to give Rasmus an opportunity. We think that is a big part of what he can bring to the lineup and to the power play. We want to give him an opportunity to be real good there.
With Joe Thornton chasing an elusive Cup here at age 41, how much do you think that resonates with the group?
Keefe: I definitely think it is not lost on the group. I think it is an unspoken thing, at least from what I have gathered. Joe himself is not one to make it about him ever. He is about the team, and that is really it. It is about the game and the respect he has for it.
You recognize with all of your older guys, whether it is he or Spez, that they are guys who have given so much to the game. It is the one piece that everybody is pursuing. It is not lost on the group for sure, but it is an unspoken thing.
That is what you play for, right? The opportunity to give everybody that moment with the Stanley Cup. It is such a special thing and such a difficult thing to achieve. You are playing not just for yourself but the right to give those experiences and memories to your teammates, your family, and your friends. It is bigger than just yourself. That is really what makes, whether it is Joe or Spez, the people they are. The team recognizes that.
It is not something that has been spoken about. It is just part of what makes up a team.