After practice on Sunday, Sheldon Keefe discussed the news of Petr Mrazek missing the next month due to his nagging groin injury, managing Jack Campbell’s workload, the Jake Muzzin – TJ Brodie pairing, and John Tavares’ leadership during the winning streak.
With Petr Mrazek out a month, how do you manage Jack Campbell’s workload?
Keefe: Just the way we have in terms of reducing his load in these practices. The games, of course, are a big ask of him, but as for the schedule, save for the back-to-backs that are approaching, we are in a good place that way. He is in a good grove here, obviously.
Talking with him, he feels good. In terms of what we are asking of him in practices, he is staying sharp but at the same time, he is not overdoing it by reducing the number of shots and work that he gets there.
He is feeling good about it. Obviously, we want to have Petr healthy. We like the idea of having the tandem and guys that can work together and share the workload a little bit better. At the same time, Jack is in a groove right now. He is rolling. It is positive that he can just keep at it and knows that he will be playing every day.
Jack Campbell says he has come a long way in terms of managing emotions. He was saying he didn’t like his first period against Tampa, but he has really been working on it in-game when it is not going his way. What have you seen in terms of how he continues to come along in that direction?
Keefe: I have definitely seen growth there. Also, there has been growth in terms of how he holds himself accountable to a really high standard. It is just focusing on the things he can control. Whether he makes the save or not early, it is a long game. There are going to be shots coming. The team is going to be relying on him to keep the score down and give us a chance.
If you look at the Tampa game, that is really it. He gives up the one early. That was it. Despite the fact that we didn’t have a lot happening in that game offensively, it just takes one strike for us to tie it and have a chance at two points. That is the goaltender’s job, and he has certainly been delivering on that.
Mrazek talked about working with the medical staff on the road. Was there any concern that maybe he was coming back too soon? How do you assess whether the player coming back is ready?
Keefe: Obviously, the medical team is a lot smarter than I am when it comes to these things. We trust them. They work very diligently to ensure that. In fact, Petr himself was saying for a number of days in advance of when he actually played that he was more than ready right from the start of our road trip out through Pittsburgh and Carolina. He was really feeling good. We pushed him back to give him more time, but he was absolutely certain — as was the medical team — that everything checked out.
It is just the nature of these injuries and playing the position. These things are always a risk. Obviously, we went through a lot of it with Jack last season, but he has been great thus far here. In terms of managing that, our medical team is as good as any in the league. They are going to continue to monitor it as they get to know Petr better.
What have you noticed about John Tavares’ demeanor in terms of how he has helped your team get rolling on this run?
Keefe: First of all, he has just remained confident in himself and in the group. That is so important when things aren’t coming well. You have to keep the belief — not point fingers, or question yourself or others. Just keep working.
He has embodied that as our leader. I think that has really helped. It is not just him. It has been consistent throughout our team. The tone is set by your most experienced players in your leadership group. John leads the way there.
Do you think TJ Brodie and Jake Muzzin have had a steadying effect on one another on their pairing?
Keefe: Yeah, I think so. I have been trying to assess how much of it is the pairs and playing off of each other, and how much is the team playing better. All of our individuals have settled into the season here and are playing better.
There has to be some level of effect there in terms of the presence that TJ has. It could also be the fact that there was change. That in and of itself shocks the system a little bit for the group. We have seen an uptick in the play of our defense as a whole but also our entire team has incrementally played better.
It hasn’t been perfect, and it won’t be perfect maybe ever, but we want to continue to strive for greater consistency in our play. I think we have been seeing that. We have been put to the test against some very tough opponents here this week. It is not going to get any easier the rest of the way. Every team is good in its own way and brings its own challenges.
I have really liked how our whole group has improved. I don’t know if we can put a finger on what exactly that is in terms of the line changes or the D pairs, but I just know individually and collectively, we have improved.
Do you anticipate recalling Michael Hutchinson?
Keefe: I am going to talk to Kyle about that. We have some time. Obviously, Joseph Woll is here now. This is great experience for him. Hutchinson was able to play a game last night. We are in a situation here now that with all of the reports from the three goalies — including Joe and Erik Kallgren, who by all accounts stole a game on Friday night in Rochester and was outstanding — we have options. We are going to talk about that and get it sorted.
Jack Campbell plays against his former team tomorrow.
Keefe: I have noted that myself. It feels like it has been a long time since we have played them. The last time was a couple of seasons ago. I was looking at some of the clips of that game. But in terms of Jack, on a personal note, I am sure it is a thing for him. We want to play well in front of him. But it is not something we have talked about or Jack has mentioned to me personally. Enough time has elapsed that he certainly considers himself a Leaf for sure.