Sheldon Keefe, Toronto Maple Leafs practice
Sheldon Keefe, Toronto Maple Leafs practice

After practice, Sheldon Keefe discussed the recall of Kyle Clifford from the Marlies, the team’s lack of five-on-five goals relative to its strong underlying offensive numbers, how David Kampf has changed his bench management, managing Jack Campbell’s workload, and Petr Mrazek’s progress towards a return.

What led to getting Kyle Clifford up with the big club?

Keefe: It is just getting an extra body here. He is a guy who has played in the league and is experienced. Coming on a trip down here so far from home, it is good to have reinforcements. It is a good opportunity to reintroduce him to the group and have him around.

What is your perspective on how Auston Matthews is handling the lack of five-on-five goals?

Keefe: I think it is handling it well. My conversations with him have been good. His mood looks good to me. That line found a way to have a good night the other night. We have been winning a lot of games. I think that has kept things in perspective for Auston.

All of our players know what we need to do this season. As much as those players — such as Auston — have great expectations of themselves and feel the need to produce for the team, the fact that the team is succeeding and he is a big part of it… He is still playing 22+ minutes, so he is a huge part of our team having success.

There is that, and then the ultimate confidence that the goals will come.

Any theory on why the team’s underlying numbers at five-on-five are so strong but the goals haven’t followed?

Keefe: It is a tricky thing. It is one where we have looked at all of the chances we have generated, and there are some high-end looks there that have not gone in that normally you would expect to go in — or at least one out of every five or 10 would go in, and they haven’t.

Even Wayne Simmonds has been all around the net, and nothing has really fallen for him since early in the season. But it is encouraging that he is generating those chances consistently despite not playing a lot.

Throughout our lineup, we have just created a lot of really good looks. We talked about this the other day: it is a challenge for us to pinpoint and identify where we are lacking and where we can improve. When things aren’t going well, you usually look at your own clips for what is happening or isn’t happening. You then look at trends around the league — are we missing something that other teams are doing that we can adopt or should be looking at?

Statistically, in nearly every category, we are at or near the top of the league offensively. That has been a challenge for us. For us, it is just a matter of bearing down on the chances that we do get, and what can we do to get a great volume of pucks towards the net to break down defenses more frequently?

I find we have generated a great number of looks, but it usually comes off of a long sequence, and we get maybe one look per shift rather than multiple looks. That has really been where our focus has been.

Is that a mentality thing?

Keefe: Yeah, it is. We have the puck a lot. We are in the offensive zone a lot, but the results haven’t been there despite some of the underlying numbers that are positive. It is not as simple to me as, “Let’s just stay with it and it is going to come.” As coaches, we have to continue to prod and find ways to influence the group. We think that having greater urgency towards attacking the net more frequently is something that we could do a little differently.

Does it have any correlation to stressing defense-first and that you are trying to emphasize defensive concepts?

Keefe: We have certainly defaulted to the defensive side of the puck a lot more of late. That is necessary for us. We have plugged some holes defensively. Our guys have done that. But that is no excuse for us offensively.

We do have the puck so much still. We have a more defensive mindset, we have led in a lot of games, and we have protected leads and such, but we need to be able to do both. If we want to be a great team, we need to be able to do both. That is our continued focus: generate more chances and make good on the ones we do get, but don’t sacrifice defensively.

When Jack Campbell’s personality is so appreciated and impactful in the room — the guys say he is goofy and lighthearted — plus he has some of the best numbers in the league, what kind of overall impact does it have on a team?

Keefe: I think it is just a confidence thing. I think every goalie’s personality is different, but in Jack’s case, he is loose and has fun every day off the ice — in practices and things like that — but when the game comes, he is dialed in and he is focused. He sticks to his routine. He gets himself prepared.

That just shows you that you have a guy who knows himself and is in a groove. Also, just because of his personality, he can go with the flow a little bit. He can let a goal in early in the game and it doesn’t rattle him for the remainder of the game. He can brush those kinds of things off.

That is a really important quality to have in a goaltender. Jack certainly has that. That is part of his personality: he doesn’t get too worked up about things. Part of that has developed for him here in the last few years, but I think it is all rooted in his personality.

Does it matter more when it is a goalie with that personality who is out there for the entirety of the game?

Keefe: There is the fact that he is out here the whole game, and it is also just such a vital position, one that can give your team confidence. You can make mistakes and maybe not be ready to play early in the game, the other team has momentum, and your goalie can get you going. You could be playing a great game but make one mistake — especially in the games we’ve played lately where we haven’t broken things open offensively — and every save is important.

That confidence comes right through the group. I think it is an important trait. Again, every goaltender is different in their own way. As long as you have the ability to remain focused and committed throughout a game regardless of what has occurred, you can dust yourself off and keep going. I think that is the most important thing.

How much does having David Kampf change the way you manage the bench and the lines?

Keefe: It changes a lot for me. I don’t have to rely upon Matthews and Tavares for so many defensive starts and also matchups. Consistently, in the past, I have had to be really mindful of the other team’s best players coming over and wanting to make sure those guys are out there. Now, if we lose the matchup or I want to get away from it, we have another line we can trust against the other team’s best people.

All of those things combined help the bench flow better for me. We can spread out the minutes a little bit better. I think you have seen it in the games we have been winning. Our top guys’ minutes are down, and it is spread out a little bit better. When we are trailing in games, we are going to continue to push the offensive guys, but having those guys on our bench has made it more comfortable for me in terms of the flow of our bench.

Is it similar to how you had the Gauthier line with the Marlies?

Keefe: Yeah, similar. It’s part of what we were trying to accomplish last season with Mikheyev, Kerfoot, and Hyman. It is similar in nature. Adding another center here in Kampf but still having the depth of Kerfoot that we can tap into at center if we need to, and also our ability to put him on left wing with Mikheyev being out… having another centerman that we added in the offseason was really important for us as a team. I thought Kampf’s skill set in particular was going to match really well with Auston and John.

Jonathan Quick was scoffing at evaluating goalies by the numbers like save percentage. How much do you evaluate goalies by the numbers and how much is the eye test?

Keefe: I think it is a bit of both like every stat. You have your save percentage, which jumps off of the page at you and tells you part of the story, and then you need to look closer. With all stats now, there are so many layers to them that are available that can tell you a story.

There are the surface-level stats, which are something, but they are certainly not everything. You go through the process of looking at the video and looking at other statistics as well — the type of quality chances that they are getting, the schedule, and all of those kinds of things. They make a difference in terms of the workload of the goaltender.

There is a lot that goes into it. Frankly speaking, the goalie position, in particular, is something that is very specialized. Our goalie coaches and our goalie department really handle that specific to our team.

Where is Petr Mrazek in his progress towards a return?

Keefe: I want to say this was his third day on the ice now with us. He took on more today. We will just continue to increase his workload throughout the trip. Today was a good day for sure to have him back out there working. Having three goalies on the trip on now makes it trickier with not as much practice time remaining on the trip, but having him around the guys again and working with Steve Briere is important. He is making his way back.

Might you look to get Jack Campbell a rest in a non-back-to-back situation?

Keefe: We have talked about it. Last week, when we were mapping things out a little bit towards this trip, we thought we would like to be able to get Jack some time off, perhaps even on this trip. We will see how it goes and take it a game at a time.

Even before Joe Woll played his game the other night, we talked about how it would be nice to get a non-back-to-back game out of our backup goaltenders. We will continue to look at that. Obviously, Joe’s performance the other night did not hurt that cause.