After practice on Thursday, Sheldon Keefe discussed the team’s search for more offense, the decision to start Michael Hutchinson for the Friday game (vs. SJ) and Jack Campbell for the Saturday game (vs. PITT), Ondrej Kase’s start to the season, and the job Bobby Hastings does as the team’s equipment manager.
When you are doing everything right but not scoring, what is the message to the group?
Keefe: Just to stay with it. Be confident in the chances that you’ve generated. If you continue to generate them, your skillset will allow you to convert on those.
At the same time, we are continuing to look at ways to get better. How can we make it harder on the goaltender? What can we do offensively to generate even more of those chances?
We don’t want to just sit here, throw up our hands, and say, “Hey, we did what we could, but the goalie played a great game.” I don’t coach the opposing goalie. I coach the team here. It is my job to find ways to get us more opportunities — more looks and ways to convert.
Some of it is tactical. Some of it is players feeling good, getting their touches, and being confident. For two practice days here, we have utilized that. We are hoping for some results tomorrow.
What have you thought about the way Ondrej Kase has started the season?
Keefe: Very good. He is a very serviceable player for us. He got through the preseason, and obviously, he has played the majority of his time with David Kampf. Those guys have been very consistent and reliable for us. He has contributed well on the power play. He has shown he can kill penalties when I want to use him there.
He has been a big part of what has been a very successful line for us. Whether it was Engvall with them or Kerfoot, I have given that line some difficult assignments and they have handled it well. It is nice to have a serviceable player like that who just goes out and gives us everything he has each shift no matter what is asked of him.
What have you liked about the checking line with Kase and Kampf on it?
Keefe: Competitive, smart players that each have the ability to drive the puck up the ice. That is such an important quality. The defensive players that I like are guys that are smart enough to be on the right side of the puck and not make mistakes — not open the ice up for the opposition — and yet, at the same time, they get the puck and they are able to make positive plays to get you down the ice and get your team set up on offense.
That, to me, is what you want in a checking line. Having guys that are really good defensively but never have the puck offensively, or don’t have the ability to set up your other lines, doesn’t really work, in my opinion.
Those guys have that skill set, and pairing them together — with Kampf, Kase, or the different guys we have had on their wing through camp and the early season here — they’ve done a really nice job of it. We are obviously looking for that to continue.
What is the thought process behind starting Michael Hutchinson on Friday vs. San Jose and Jack Campbell vs. Pittsburgh on Saturday?
Keefe: As we looked at it, there were two things. We were trying to put Hutchinson in a position to succeed. We thought coming off of a practice day right into a game day tomorrow is a good opportunity for him to do that.
On the Campbell front, as we saw as we came out of the game the other night, we’re just managing his workload a little bit better. It was a day off for him yesterday, a hard practice today, and he will get himself going again today. That is two consecutive days on the ice, and he’ll be ready to play on Saturday.
We thought it made sense for both goaltenders and made sense for our team.
How valuable is it to have someone like Hutchinson always at the ready when you need him?
Keefe: He has proven to be tremendously valuable. We saw last season how he came up in that role and did a really good job for us winning some big games. I think he has done a really nice job of building the confidence the organization and his teammates have in him. Our ability to have a guy of that calibre — who has played in the league as much as he has — as our third goaltender is a nice asset for us to have here.
Obviously, it’s disappointing and unfortunate that we don’t have Petr available, but to have a veteran goaltender like that come in… I thought he was outstanding in practice today. He was really dialed in. Those are the kinds of things that you need from your depth.
How pleased are you that you are off to a good start again in regards to the faceoff circle?
Keefe: Really pleased. We did expect a bit of an uptick in that. Obviously, getting Auston back helps even more. Also, we thought the addition of David Kampf would help us in that regard.
I think we are doing a good job on the ones we have lost. We are really emphasizing being on your toes and jumping. We are getting a number of pucks back quite quickly even when we lose the draw. We are right on top of it. Our forwards are doing a really nice job off of the drop of losing loose-puck battles. That has kept us on offense a lot.
The Arkells posted a video from behind the bench in the first game of Bobby Hastings’ fingers on each player’s stick in case he needed to get one to them. What stands out to you about the attention to detail he brings to his job?
Keefe: Second to none. He is incredibly detailed. I did see that video. It is interesting because, as a coach, you are so focused on what is happening in front of you that you really rarely see what is going on behind you even though it is so close.
I always marvel at the equipment manager’s ability to be ready when someone breaks a stick or whatever is called for on the bench. You can see how seriously he takes it. We believe we have the best in the league. That was a fun video to see.
Have you ever had to play with someone else’s stick back in your playing days? How did it feel?
Keefe: I have, and it feels very strange. Some of our guys are maybe so talented that it doesn’t make a difference. My own stick always felt weird.
I can’t remember the last time a player has come to the bench and grabbed one of his teammates’ sticks. It is very rare. Back when I played, it was more common that you would grab a teammate’s stick. Now, the equipment managers are so focused on and take their craft so seriously.
Bobby is the head of that class for me. The players get what they need always. That is really why we are so fortunate.
With the 6 p.m. start tomorrow, was it your request to try to get out early?
Keefe: I am not certain how exactly that came together, to be honest. I think that is part of it — how it is going to help us in terms of the back-to-backs and such — but I am not engaged in setting the schedule or the times. I am not certain of the origin of it.