After practice on Friday, Sheldon Keefe discussed the injury status of Mitch Marner, Ilya Mikheyev, Ondrej Kase, and Joe Woll as well as the challenge ahead against the Minnesota Wild on Saturday night.
Mitch Marner left early after a collision with Jake Muzzin. Any concern he might not be able to play?
Keefe: It’s precautionary. We will see how he is in the morning. It is not looking like anything serious at this point. He is going to travel and prepare to play. We will see how he is in the morning.
— Mark Masters (@markhmasters) December 3, 2021
After the collision, Marner and Muzzin had words at the bench, and it seemed a little heated. What is your perspective on that? Are you glad to see competitors going at it? Do you check in to make sure it is all good?
Keefe: I was told that there was a little bit of an exchange right before I came out here, but especially with those two guys, I don’t worry about that kind of stuff at all. Things happen out there, whether it is in practice or games. Our team is really close and that kind of stuff will be shaken off really quickly.
What has allowed Rasmus Sandin to become an everyday guy and someone you move up on the power play?
Keefe: First of all, the power play and he is ability to contribute on that is a big part of it. He has a unique skill set in that regard when you look at the group that we have. Those same skills that allow him to play on the power play is also unique to our D group in terms of breaking the puck out and helping us move through the neutral zone and at the offensive blue line.
Those things really help him stay in. Those are important intangibles that he brings to the lineup when he is in. The other part of it is just the maturity that he has shown as a young player even since he came in with the Marlies. All of that is part of it.
He is still, just like the other guys, in a competition here for a spot and for his ice time. He has to continue to stay on top of that. We believe in him. He has played very well for us. But you talk about him being an every day player — and he has only sat one game to this point — but like Liljegren, Dermott, and Justin Holl, all of those guys who have sat games while healthy have to be at their best every day.
That is the biggest challenge in the NHL — to do that. Part of that for us is making sure we keep him healthy, fresh, and at the point where he can be at his best more often than not.
Are you happy with the “next man up” mentality and that you have the depth to deal with any unforeseen injuries and bumps and bruises?
Keefe: For sure. We have been talking about it. We have seven defensemen, so that has contributed. We have won games with each of them in. You don’t spend too much time worrying about it. Just like everything else that is out of your control, if you are wasting your time thinking about that, you are taking away time from worrying about the things you can control.
We do like our depth. Whether it is the seventh defenseman who has played, or whether it is Joey Anderson, Kyle Clifford, or Joe Woll that have come in, they have all come in at times when we have needed help and have done the job. More importantly, the rest of our group that is playing has just picked up the group.
Will Ondrej Kase play tomorrow night?
Keefe: Kase got through practice today. It was very positive. It looks like he is trending towards a return here. He is going to travel with the group. We are going to travel out to Minnesota, see how he is in the morning, and take it from there.
What have your early looks at the Wild told you about the difficulty of the matchup?
Keefe: Even throughout last season as well, they have really established themselves as a very difficult team to play against. They are very structured and play extremely hard. They are big and strong and hungry around the net.
There are lots of really good traits that are easy to pick out about their team because it is so deliberate and obvious — especially when you look at how they are around the net. Our ability to protect our net, keep pucks away from there, and keep bodies away from there are really important.
We’re looking to play through pressure. They are a team that plays very hard. They play very well particularly on home ice. Just like we had to prep for Colorado the other night, we have a lot of respect for the opponent. We will just have to make sure we are prepared.
How many games do you think Petr Mrazek will play with the Marlies?
Keefe: I think we will take it one at a time. The Marlies were supposed to play tomorrow night, but that has been postponed. He will play on Sunday, and we will take it from there.
Will Ilya Mikheyev come on the trip with you?
Keefe: Yeah, Miky is going to travel with us, too. It is really nice to see him taking those steps. Part of it is the conditioning piece and getting back out on the ice and being around more than just an open sheet of ice. Having lots of guys out there is part of making your way back.
The other piece is just being with your teammates again. He has been injured a lot, as injured players tend to be. We have been trying to get him into our meetings and such in the last little while. Coming on the road now is a big part of that, too.
Is Joe Woll going to get a start this weekend?
Keefe: I think we are going to bring three goaltenders. With Joe, just like the others who are a little banged up, we are just going to have to see how they respond in the morning tomorrow and take it from there.
Is there another level to the Matthews-Marner chemistry, or is it just sort of picking up where they left off?
Keefe: I like to think that two players like that, especially at their age, there is room to grow there still — room to grow in their chemistry and in their games individually. I don’t think we would say they have maxed out their potential in any regard, especially with players with that drive that they have paired with the talent and competitiveness. I wouldn’t limit those guys at all. It is certainly nice to see them connecting. You can’t leave out the fact that Bunting has really contributed well to that line as well.