After practice on Monday, Sheldon Keefe discussed Auston Matthews’ and assistant coach Dean Chynoweth’s absences, Alex Kerfoot’s versatility, the team’s depth contributors this season, and managing the workload between Jack Campbell and Petr Mrazek once the schedule picks up again.
#Leafs lines at practice Jan. 3/22
D’Agostini (practice goalie)
— David Alter (@dalter) January 3, 2022
Were Auston Matthews and Dean Chynoweth not feeling well? Was there a possible exposure?
Keefe: No symptoms for either guy, but they both tested positive on their rapid here this morning. We will just wait for the results from their PCR, which won’t come in until tomorrow morning. There have been some instances where those rapid positives have been false. That is why, at this point, it is precautionary that they were removed for today. We will await confirmation in the morning.
What has it been like having to deal with the medical side of everything day-to-day? It’s not something you signed up for with the job.
Keefe: Over the course of the last season or even the season previous where we were going into the bubble, this is just the reality. As you are kind of eluding to, it has been more my reality in the NHL than it has been normal.
We were ready for practice here today with a plan in place, and we were told Auston wasn’t going to be available. We had to adjust quickly. You move on. That’s what you do.
Obviously, we are wanting our guys to remain healthy and safe and all of that. We are fortunate to this point that anybody who has been positive has gotten through it with relatively mild symptoms.
We saw the other night that our guys have recovered well. Muzzin seems to be on his way back. Liljegren had a good day here today. We just have to go with it here for now. It has just become part of our reality that we have to deal with.
Having to make the adjustment quickly, why did you want to try John Tavares back with Mitch Marner and Alex Kerfoot in the middle of the second line?
Keefe: As I said, we did adjust quickly. We didn’t give it a great deal of thought. We really just defaulted to some of the things we did last season when we played without Auston. We liked some of those looks and how it went for us. We liked incorporating Kerfoot back into the middle. It keeps Kampf and Spezza solid in their spots.
We just like the way that the lines shake out. We will continue to look at it as we await confirmation on Auston’s status. We may make some adjustments for tomorrow or later in the week.
Kerfoot has shown the ability to play center and do a good job for us throughout the season. It keeps him and Willy together. Those guys have done a good job.
We will look at it. I have liked how John has done with [Nylander and Kerfoot] as well. We just have to do what is best for us to prepare to play against Edmonton.
You have talked about Kerfoot’s versatility in the past. Can you talk about what Alex does for the coaching staff in terms of giving you confidence that he can be moved up and down in tough times?
Keefe: It is so valuable for us to have a player like that. Whether you look at Kamp, Kase, Mikheyev, or Engvall, these guys serve a lot of purposes for us. Even all the way down through, Ritchie has moved up and down the lineup. Spezza has moved up and down the lineup. Simmonds has moved all around the lineup. We are getting lots of great contributions from guys lower in our lineup. That is a great sign for our depth.
Specific to Kerfoot, he has just shown over his time here that he is capable of doing multiple jobs. We haven’t used him on the power play this season, but he can help us there as well. He is an effective player in that regard.
He is really just here to serve the team. Whatever the team needs, he is all for it. He is going to give his best to help the team win on that particular day. Those players are extremely important to have. We have a great level of respect for the way Kerfoot has handled that.
In terms of the conversations you and Steve Briere are having on your goaltending, what is the strategy this month for trying to balance the starts?
Keefe: We are just going to take it a day at a time here. We were very conscious of Jack’s workload that he had through the season. We were doing our best to monitor that and manage it well with his practice time and things of that nature, which we have continued to do here even coming back from the break.
The break has been significant for Jack. It is quite rare or unheard of for a goalie to get that opportunity to rest and recover. It wasn’t all vacation for him because he was dealing with Covid and having to find his way back and all of that, but certainly, it has reduced the workload for him over the last few weeks.
Even now, coming out of this, our schedule is pretty spaced out. Jack is going to go against Edmonton on Wednesday, and we will take it from there as we go out on the road trip.
It is certainly not ideal as it relates to Petr Mrazek, but Petr himself has dealt with injuries. This little break here and an opportunity to get back up and running, in a lot of ways, it’s like resetting his season. We are hoping that he can remain healthy.
Over time, our schedule is going to get quite busy, and we are going to need both guys to be playing a lot. We think we will get to that point. For right now, we think there is an opportunity for Jack to run with it.
You mentioned Saturday’s game was a weird one coming off of the long break. What did the tape tell you about Saturday’s game that could give your team something to work on for the next one?
Keefe: Watching the tape back, it looked a lot like what it felt like watching it live in the building. It was a lot like a preseason game, frankly. It was two teams that hadn’t played in a long time.
Ottawa was dealing with significant Covid issues and missing a good chunk of their team. There were no fans. With all of those things that were thrown into it, it didn’t feel like two teams that were 30 games into the season and rolling.
That was to be expected. It is hard to take too much from that game other than just pointing us in the direction of what we’re continuing to work on over the next few days of practice to get ourselves ready and continue to progress in order to be rolling and firing on all cylinders, which we felt we were prior to the break.
A lot of things were as expected in terms of not necessarily being in sync in any real area of our game. We were, of course, happy with the way it worked out for us.