Sheldon Keefe, Toronto Maple Leafs
Sheldon Keefe, Toronto Maple Leafs head coach

After practice on Thursday, Sheldon Keefe discussed Nick Ritchie’s goal-scoring drought to start the season, David Kampf’s status after leaving Wednesday night’s game, the decision to start Joe Woll on Friday night in San Jose, and keeping Travis Dermott engaged when sitting out games.

Given David Kampf was out there at practice, is it a good sign he could play tomorrow?

Keefe: It seems that way. It was a good day for him. We will see how he is tomorrow when he wakes up and comes to the rink. We’ll call it a game-time decision, I guess, but it was a very positive day for him.

What is Ondrej Kase’s status?

Keefe: Similar in that we’ll have to see how he is tomorrow. It is a maintenance day. We will see how he is in the morning.

Was there something new with Kase, or is it more the accumulation of the way he plays blocking shots, taking hits, and so on?

Keefe: I think it is just accumulation. He has been through a lot, as we have talked about, throughout this season with how he plays. We will give him a good day today for things to settle for him and take it from there.

Is it more load management for Jack Campbell today?

Keefe: Yeah, that’s it. He is not going to play tomorrow. Joe Woll is going to start tomorrow. It is a perfect day for us to give him the day here. He is still able to get two good work days in to prepare for Anaheim.

How do you keep the defenseman on the sideline for extended periods engaged, especially if they haven’t done anything particularly wrong?

Keefe: Communication is a big part of it — just letting them know this is the situation. Whether you are the guy that is in or the guy that is out, you try to make them understand that there are times where we have kept the lineup the same and kept guys in that maybe had reasons to come out and didn’t. We gave them more opportunities to play. As a result, others have had to sit.

We thought Justin Holl was going to have to sit maybe one game. He ended up sitting five. Generally, we have tried to keep the lineup rolling here. It is a daily discussion. We have just felt that we want to keep it the same here for the last little bit. We will do the same tomorrow on defense.

In Dermott’s case, he is going through it. He has to find his way to stay sharp, stay ready, and step in and take advantage of his opportunity. Liljegren has had a bunch of games at the start of the season and he has done a good job since. He has come out of the lineup, gone back in, and done well.

It is just a matter of communicating, making sure the guys know what the situation is. I think we have done that. We believe that having seven defensemen that can play is a strength for us as a team at this point, but it is certainly something we have to manage.

Are you trying to avoid keeping them out for really long periods?

Keefe: Yeah, we are. The intention with Holl was not for it to go that way.  We are also not trying to be automatic where there is going to be an actual rotation where one is going to come out every single game. We are just going to react to what we think is right for the team and what is right for the players at that particular time.

Sometimes, you want to make a change to mix it up. Sometimes, even if it is a bad night like against Pittsburgh, we kept the same lineup, came back, and I wanted the same group to go back out and get a chance to show they can be better and are better.

It is a daily discussion that we are going through. Right now, there is Holl, Dermott, Liljegren, and even Sandin is a little bit involved in that mix of guys who may have to come out from time to time. Sometimes, it is just managing their minutes and their rest, as we have discussed specifically with Sandin and Liljegren, who are two younger guys who haven’t played a lot of hockey at this level and last season didn’t play much hockey. Both guys have already played as much or more than they played last season, and they have had some history with some injuries. We have to be smart with that, too.

How do you weigh the excellent play of Jack Campbell against the workload, and how much is too much?

Keefe: It is a challenge. I don’t know that there is any real threshold there that you say is too much or the right amount. It is knowing that you do have to give him time. That is just the fair thing to do and the smart thing to do knowing how long the season is.

Jack is in a really good place here in terms of how he is managing his body and how the medical team is working with him to manage his body. We went through a lot of different things with him last season, but I think it really helped Jack to get to know his body better and how he needs to take care of it. Also, the medical team is in a groove there.

Sometimes things are going to happen and you can’t prevent everything. Sometimes there is going to be bad luck or whatever, but you do what you can daily to control your process and how you prepare. He has done a terrific job of that, and yet, here of late, we have really just given him the back-to-backs off.

We feel it is important to find him opportunities to take a day like today. It is not so much even missing the game tomorrow; it’s taking a day like today — an additional day off the rest of the team doesn’t [get] — and what that can do for his body and his mind. We think it is equally important to find these types of days.

What do you think it means to Nick Ritchie that the guys are rallying for him? The guys were looking to get him one last night. What do you think that does for him as he is going through this drought?

Keefe: I think it shows his teammates care about him. They appreciate who he is and what he does for our team — that he brings value to us. He is a guy going through it and is used to scoring. Last season, he was on a career-high pace for himself. He is coming into this group here, and he wants to make a mark. That is a big part of what he has been in his career.

You can just imagine what he might be going through mentally. I think he has handled it very well. The support of his teammates goes a long way. He needs to get support from the coaching staff as well to help keep him focused on other things.

I do think he has done good things. When the puck is on his stick on the breakout, he is making plays and getting us moving up the ice. There was the screen on the goal yesterday. There are the little things — the touch on the forecheck on the Kase goal on Long Island. Little things like that are contributing to us winning games.

That is what has been nice here. We have been winning a lot of games, so I think that helps reduce some of the pressure on Nick. Our team doesn’t necessarily need him to score; we’d like him to score, and he is capable of it. I believe strongly that once he does score, it is going to open up for him. I think he is a guy who is capable of scoring big goals for us at big times. I think that is going to come. We have to continue to support him through this.