After practice on Friday, Sheldon Keefe discussed preparations for the team’s first game back against Ottawa tomorrow night following a 16-day COVID-induced pause in the schedule.
#Leafs lines at practice Dec. 31/21
D’Agostini (practice goalie)
— David Alter (@dalter) December 31, 2021
What was it like having the full complement of forwards available to you in practice, and what decisions does it create for you for the game tomorrow night?
Keefe: It is certainly nice to have the bodies and see all of those guys on the ice together. It’s been since preseason that we last had that group of guys out there together.
As it relates to tomorrow, we are not getting too far ahead of ourselves here. We have three guys that are fresh off of dealing with COVID-19 and had their first day on the ice. They will continue to go through the process here of getting cleared medically to get out of the league’s protocols.
It is really nice to have them out there in terms of those three guys. Nylander, specifically, gave us the 13th forward. We will have to see how they progress into tomorrow.
If they do clear protocol, could they be an option for you?
Keefe: They could be an option, yes. Obviously, like I said, for everybody else there, they have had multiple days to come back and get themselves ready to play a game. Those guys, in their situation, are different. We are just going to be mindful of that and know that it is not an easy process for them to get back up and running.
Is the fact that tomorrow’s opponent had the same break and issues that you do weigh into decisions about whether you can throw somebody who has only had one practice into the game?
Keefe: It is not something that I have thought about. We are just taking it each player at a time. It is not even about our team or our circumstances. It is about each player and how they feel. Each player has had their own symptoms and circumstances to deal with. Each player then recovers their own way. We have to look at it that way.
That is why it is out of my hands. It is the medical team that deals with that in their discussions with the players and their own assessments. They will make the determination about when it is appropriate for players to return to play.
We will continue to go through that process. We feel good about where everybody is at that has had multiple days to come out of this. In terms of the three that were new to the group today, we are going to give them more time and see where they are at tomorrow.
We are not going to have fans again tomorrow night. On the other side of the coin, you are down to just one player now in the protocol. There must be some optimism looking ahead from that point of view.
Keefe: It was nice to have the bodies back and to see people back in the building. In terms of coming out of the protocol, at this point, we are not necessarily looking at the three that were new today as being out of the protocol. I think being prepared and cleared to play is the next step for those guys.
Certainly, with just having Liljegren be the only one not in the building today, it is nice to see the group back in the building here. It has been a long time coming. It was good to see those guys back involved.
As for the fans, it is going to be different for sure. We had gotten comfortable again playing in front of fans, and it has been so terrific to have them both at home and on the road. We have such a great following across the league. Certainly, at home, it has been nice to play in front of a full building.
Circumstances have changed. We have to adjust and adapt. I am not sure what the building is going to be like tomorrow. When I watched that Montreal game with no fans there, even something as simple as not having the tarps on the seats makes a difference as well. I am not sure what the situation will be like tomorrow.
Regardless of what it is, it is going to be the same for both teams. We just have to be focused on playing our best game.
Provided you do have everybody back, line rushes suggest Nick Ritchie might be on the outside looking in. Is it a tough balance to figure out the right mix? How did that come about in terms of the forward group?
Keefe: I really, to be honest, did not put much thought into how that shook out. It was more just a matter of me putting Nylander back in his spot and slotting Kase down. I am just kind of left with two left wingers on that fourth group. That is how I looked at it. All four of those guys took reps in different positions and moved around.
It was really about trying to put Nylander in his best position possible to get the most we could out of today’s skate and to be able to make a proper determination of where he is at going into tomorrow.
In terms of anything else that was affected by that, I didn’t give it a whole lot of thought other than us just trying to make sure we are able to get everybody as many reps as possible.