After practice on Friday, Sheldon Keefe provided the latest update on John Tavares before discussing moving Nick Foligno to center, reinserting both Pierre Engvall and Alex Galchenyuk into the lineup, and the adjustments needed for Game 2.
Practice Lines – May 21
Lines at Leafs practice
Hyman – Matthews – Marner
Galchenyuk – Foligno – Nylander
Engvall – Kerfoot – Mikheyev
Thornton – Spezza – Simmonds
With Tavares out:
* Galchenyuk in on 2nd line
* Engvall in on 3rd line; Nash out
* Foligno, Kerfoot at centre @TSN_Edge
— Mark Masters (@markhmasters) May 21, 2021
No changes to the Leafs defence pairs
Rasmus Sandin remains with Zach Bogosian
Ben Hutton has returned after missing a couple days for a non-COVID medical issue @TSN_Edge
— Mark Masters (@markhmasters) May 21, 2021
Have you had a conversation with John? How much did it help to talk to him and for the team to be able to communicate with him?
Keefe: That has probably been the biggest thing — there has been communication there. That has put everybody at ease a little bit.
Of course, there was great concern last night. Even today, talking with a lot of our medical people and trainers and such, it was a big thing that was on our players’ minds. They were asking for a lot of updates and things like that throughout the remainder of the game and after, of course. It is good to have that communication and see that he is doing well resting at home.
Of course, we are very, very relieved at that. Now, we have to pick ourselves up not just from that but from coming off of a loss last night. We have to gather ourselves and be better.
Are you able to say whether John suffered a concussion?
Keefe: Yes, I am able to say that.
The team lost Nazem Kadri two years in a row against the Boston Bruins. It lost Jake Muzzin against Columbus. Is the team better equipped to withstand an absence of this importance with the players that were brought in this year? Is there anything to learn from the way Tampa was able to win last year minus Steve Stamkos?
Keefe: There is no shortage of examples over the history of our game — not just in the NHL but at different levels. All players and coaches would have gone through it. Injuries happen. On any successful team, you are dealing with all sorts of different things, whether it is Tampa last year or countless others, including some that are currently finding ways to win games without really important players.
Hockey is not a one-man show. Others need to step up. It is as simple as that. We have to rally, if you will, around this situation and just step up and be better. It is a very unfortunate predicament in losing your captain. It is not what you want when you are going into a playoff run with high expectations.
We are where we are as a team not just because of one individual or certain individuals. Our whole team has contributed. Every player has made contributions. That is going to have to continue — even more so now.
What was your sense of the mood of the team this morning and after last night? What is your overall message to the group? We saw you bring them together briefly at the end of practice.
Keefe: The mood was fine. The guys don’t like what happened last night. They don’t like the result, of course. I think they recognize that we can be a whole lot better, and yet also recognize we were right there in the game. We give them a break and they make good on it. We didn’t make good on our breaks.
Our guys know it is a long series and the playoffs have lots of ups and downs and twists and turns. It is on us here now to respond. I think that’s why the guys came in here today just focused on that. They remain confident. We will regroup and go back at it tomorrow.
Can you talk about what Pierre Engvall and Alex Galchenyuk can bring in Game 2 tomorrow night?
Keefe: Both guys bring degrees of speed and skill. The dynamics of our group change when John is not in. I just feel we have to make some changes to compensate for that and give us a little bit more of a push offensively with greater depth throughout in the skill and speed department.
Why are you opting for Nick Foligno in the middle?
Keefe: Nick has played a lot of center. He played a lot of center in Columbus before he came here this season. We don’t have an abundance of options there. I just like the look of that. I like the ability to put Galchenyuk in that spot.
Even when he plays left wing, Nick ends up spending a lot of time playing low in the defensive zone. He is usually high in the offensive zone. He is usually the first guy back. He is very comfortable playing down low in our own end. It is a natural fit.
He was more than willing. Even last night on the bench, he was telling me he is more than comfortable playing center to fill in for John if I needed him to. We used him a little bit there yesterday. We will look to give him more time there tomorrow.
It was a strong night for the Matthews line. How can they make some more of those opportunities drop tomorrow night?
Keefe: Just stay with it and continue to work. At this time of year, with a team that defends the way they do and with the goaltending that they have, goals are going to be hard to come by. We knew that going in. We didn’t get enough looks — clearly — last night. Those guys probably had our best looks and were our strongest line for sure.
Whether it is five on five or on the power play, we have to find a way to get it to go over the line. Those guys have just got to stay with the process and find another level. Clearly, what any of us did last night was not good enough. We have to be better.
Did you feel the long layoff for Riley Nash played a role in his game last night?
Keefe: It is hard to say. I don’t have a whole lot to compare it to in terms of being on the bench and watching him live. Going into the game, I thought it would only be natural that not only playing for a long time but also playing for a new team and stepping right into the playoffs would be a challenge for him, but I thought he was fine. We had five penalties to kill, so I was glad we had him on our bench last night.
I thought he did a good job for us, but with John coming out of the lineup, it changes the dynamic of our forward group. I feel like we need some different elements going into tomorrow.
It seemed that Montreal was able to generate some of its chances on long passes in transition. Is that something you need to address structurally, or is it the awareness of the players on the ice?
Keefe: That is a big part of how they generate their offense. They caught us a couple of times in the first period. One is a real bad line change and one is a real bad turnover. They are not necessarily structure pieces. They are just overall awareness and staying engaged in the game.
They play very well — as good as any team in the league — in transition on those plays. That is how a lot of their offense comes about. I thought they got behind us there in the first period. I didn’t think it was much of a factor in the second or the third — obviously, the shorthanded goal aside.
Certainly, it is something we talked about coming into the series. We have to do a better job of it, clearly, right from the start, but it is just a matter of those little details — not turning pucks over on entries, not changing lines, and losing structure when the other team has the puck. Those are just little details where you can’t make those mistakes.
Carey Price has had his struggles this season and is coming off of a concussion. With him in the net, are you guys going up against the mythology of the man as well as the reality of him?
Keefe: I don’t know about that. You are always living in reality on the ice. For a goalie like Carey Price, it seems like the big moments are the ones they probably wait for. For their team, they just kind of throw out the regular season and expect him to be at his best. That is what we had expected, and that was what he was right from the start of the game. He was sharp. We have to do a lot more to make it more difficult on him and find ways to give ourselves more opportunities to score.
Are there any concerns that Rasmus Sandin or Joe Thornton are not up to the level of this playoff series after last night?
Keefe: No concerns that they’re not up to the level, but I think a lot of our players needed to be better last night. You pick out those two names. There are big moments that stand out, of course, and that is what playoff hockey is: moments and mistakes here or there that make the difference. Those will stand out to you.
Especially watching the game back here today, I found both guys — whether it is power play or at five-on-five — did some positive things for us. That was encouraging. The mistakes — the negative ones — really stand out, but we have to remain confident in our group and in the guys who have gotten us here.
Sandin has played some really good hockey for us. I thought our first two power plays of the game were probably as good as our power play has looked in a really long time. We hit the post on the first one, hit the crossbar on the second one, and had more than enough really good looks. Sandin was a good part of that.
Whether it is him or Morgan Rielly, we have confidence in those guys there. Our whole group needs to be better tomorrow. It would be unfair to single out just a couple of guys. Everybody has more to give.
The Canadiens won the majority of the faceoffs after struggling a lot there all season. They also outhit your team by a 2:1 margin. Did that surprise you at all? Is tomorrow a must-win situation, or do you feel like teams are only in must-win situations when they are facing elimination?
Keefe: That [question] was a lot to take in. The physicality of the game didn’t surprise us at all. They started off really physical. I thought they definitely had an edge in the first 10 minutes of the game. Beyond that, I thought there wasn’t a whole lot to it. I don’t know who counts the hits in the game, but they are definitely not a Leafs fan. We do need to as a team be more engaged right from the drop of the puck in that sense.
When you are in a playoff series and you lose one game, you need to respond. It is as simple as that. You don’t want to lose two in a row. We can attach any cliche we want to it, but we just have to play better and win a hockey game tomorrow.
What was the message after the first period last night? Was it encouraging to see how the team responded and dominated the second period last night?
Keefe: I talked about it last night, but a lot of our medical staff had also been dealing with a lot of our players who were pretty shaken by the situation and had great levels of concern. We addressed it. As difficult as it was in the moment and at the intermission, we had a job to do. I was really proud of how the guys regrouped, went out, and had a good second period.
Of course, I was not happy with how it played out in the third. We didn’t deal with the third period very well at all, and we ended up losing the game because of it. It was a very positive sign how we worked in the second period. It is something for us to build on. The bulk of the positive things we pull out of the game come out of that period.
You need to have a lot more than just one period if you are going to get a win. We knew the series was going to be difficult. We knew we were going to see a much different Montreal team than we had seen in the regular season and certainly over the last couple of months with the injuries and schedule that they had. They are what we expected them to be, and we didn’t counter it the way we would like. We will be a lot better tomorrow.