After practice on Tuesday, Sheldon Keefe discussed the latest status of Auston Matthews and Dean Chynoweth as it pertains to COVID-19 protocol, Ondrej Kase’s absence from practice, the challenge against Edmonton on Wednesday night, and the abundance of practice time the team has had over the past 10 days.
#Leafs lines at practice Jan. 4/22
D’Agostini (practice goalie)
— David Alter (@dalter) January 4, 2022
What is the latest status on Auston Matthews as it pertains to COVID-19 protocol?
Keefe: His PCR today came back negative. He was held out today for precautionary reasons as we await further results tomorrow. We will have to wait on that. At this point, he is not ruled out for [Wednesday’s] game.
Are you okay with Auston getting right back in for Wednesday even if he hasn’t practiced for the last 48 hours?
Keefe: That will be up to Auston and the medical team if that is the case. It is hypothetical at this point. We will just wait on the results.
We have practiced different things here today preparing in the event that we wouldn’t have Auston just so we are not caught off guard if that is the case. If it is deemed that is ready to play and able to play, we are confident he can just drop back in from a systems and structure standpoint as well as familiarity with his teammates and power play.
As for his health, that is out of my hands. They will tell me whether or not he is available. We will go from there.
Is there any word on Dean Chynoweth?
Keefe: Dean was confirmed positive [for COVID-19].
What is Ondrej Kase’s status with him not practicing today as well?
Keefe: Not Covid related in any way. He tweaked something in the gym, actually, before practice. He is going to be day-to-day. We will just have to see how he responds tomorrow.
What are you expecting on Wednesday night from an Oilers group that is struggling right now?
Keefe: You are going to expect a group with lots of urgency. I have been watching some of the games. They have been playing well and are looking for a break and a bounce to go their way. They haven’t gotten the results, so it is going to be on us to manage the fact that they are going to be hungry to get control of the game.
It is really not unlike when we played them in Edmonton. They were going through a similar situation at that time. We had to do it on the road, and now we’ll have to do it at home.
You have been able to get a lot of practice time in. Have you been able to get the most out of it? Have you enjoyed it as the coach of the team?
Keefe: I have. It has been interesting. It has been a different challenge that I haven’t really faced a lot other than in training camp settings.
As a coach mid-season, we are making sure we are addressing the things that we feel we need to do address while, at the same time, providing enough variety in giving the guys enough to keep them engaged through these long stretches of practices.
They are certainly hungry to play games. That is the balance, right? You want practice time when the season schedule is really busy. You want it to settle. But it gets to the point where the players are like, “Uncle! Enough practice. Let’s get playing here.”
It is on us as coaches to manage that. It has been interesting. Now, as we have gotten most of our players here back up and running, we have managed that part of it in terms of not overdoing it with practice time and what we are doing on the ice because you have guys coming off of Covid and you have a long period of time of not skating.
We feel we have gotten to the point now where we are ready to get this regular rhythm here with games upcoming.
Do you think the break can act as a reset for Justin Holl and perhaps others?
Keefe: For our entire team, you have no choice but to look at it as a reset. It is not as if it’s just for a guy who maybe has room to grow and improve in your play. Even if you are a guy who was rolling and going really well, you have had a big break and a big pause here now, and you have to re-establish that.
Certainly, you are coming from a different place. If things are going really well, you are coming back confident and you have the expectation that it is just going to continue. If that is your mindset, then you might be disappointed. No matter what your situation is, you should be looking at this as a reset. We have talked about that as a team.
Ultimately, it is just about reconnecting with what we do as a unit — not so much as individual pieces, but what we are trying to accomplish as a team. The quicker we can get back to our team game, the better it will be for everybody.
Do you have any thoughts on facing Zach Hyman and what he brings to the Oilers? He wasn’t in the lineup last month in Edmonton.
Keefe: I don’t have any real thoughts on it other than he is a good player who makes them a better team when he is in the lineup for sure. That is really it.
Obviously, Zach is a guy who gave a lot to this organization. He was a very well-liked guy for good reasons — the effort that he put in, and the type of person that he is. On that side of it, it was tough to see him go.
Now he is on the other side coming back. He is just a player you have to be aware of on the other side.