After practice on Wednesday, Sheldon Keefe discussed the imminent return of Zach Bogosian, Rasmus Sandin’s ability to handle NHL playoff competition, and the team’s preparedness for rough hockey in the postseason.
Practice Lines – May 19
Leafs special teams at practice
Matthews, Thornton, Marner
Nylander, Tavares, Spezza
Brodie Bogosian @TSN_Edge
— Mark Masters (@markhmasters) May 19, 2021
What is the outlook for Zach Bogosian? If you get him back, what does he mean to the group?
Keefe: The outlook looks good. He got through another hard and competitive practice today.
He has great experience coming off of last season’s playoffs. The elements he brings to our defense help us at five-on-five and on the penalty kill.
It is a nice addition for us. Frankly, we were unsure if he was going to be available for this series, but credit him for the work that he has put in to get himself ready.
This is the time of year when players make their reputations. You have two players who are top five in the NHL on one line. How important is it for them to take what they have done and translate it to the next level?
Keefe: I would say it is vital. That is obviously the next step we are looking to take as a team. In order for us to get there, our best players have to be our best players. We have got to do a great job player one through 20, but your best players have to be exactly that.
This is the hardest time of the year. This is the time you want to thrive. I know those guys are excited to have that opportunity.
What have you appreciated most about Rasmus Sandin’s play, and how do you think he will embrace playoff action?
Keefe: What I have liked most is the way that he moves the puck. I think it gives us a really strong element lower on our defense pairings — a guy that helps us get out of our zone, helps put the puck in the forwards’ hands in really good spots, finds his way out of trouble very well. We like that a lot about it.
In terms of how I think he will adjust, the one thing I really appreciate about Rasmus — right from the time I had him as an 18-year-old with the Marlies — is that he is a competitor. He doesn’t shy away from physicality. He doesn’t shy away from difficult situations and tough moments on the ice.
I have no doubt he is going to be just fine adjusting to playoff hockey in the NHL.
This is your second playoff series as a coach. How do you think you have grown and matured? You are going to be coaching against someone who is still relatively new behind the bench as a head coach. Have you thought at all about anything prophetic that you might say to the team tomorrow night?
Keefe: I have coached a lot of playoff series at a lot of different levels. The NHL, of course, is a greater stage with greater players and all of that, but to me, the preparation, the execution, and the things you do on the bench are the same no matter what level you are in. I am sure Dom would feel the same.
Where I feel I have grown the most is just growing with the players and in my relationship with them. Having gone through that series last season and losing it, that type of experience just makes you better. You make adjustments. You know how to push the right buttons to have the team push through those situations again.
That is the kind of thing I would point to. Just like I tell the players a lot of times, you have played hockey for a very long time. You have played at a very high level for a very long time in high-pressure situations. You just have to tap into that. It really is still the same sport.
We have already seen multiple fights and 27 roughing penalties with over 1,000 hits just a couple of games into the playoffs series around the league. Are you expecting to see this series to be particularly rough and physical?
Keefe: I would say so. That is playoff hockey. That is part of it. The officials are going to do their part to keep it under control and all of those types of things, but for the players, of course, there is a lot at stake. This is what you play for. I certainly would expect a lot more physicality than what you see in the regular season.
That said, we played Montreal 10 times. They are as physical of a team that there is in the league. It is not something that is entirely new for us. But I would expect for both teams it is going to be at a much higher level than what we have seen even through the regular season.
Does the addition of Bogosian, Simmonds, and others give you a greater edge than you would have had a year ago in that department?
Keefe: I think so. We are a much bigger team, a much more experienced team, and a much more confident team in those types of situations. You left out Joe Thornton, but Joe is a big, strong guy and an absolute competitor. He has been his entire career.
We are well equipped to handle whatever way the games are going to go and to play through difficult situations.