After practice on Sunday, Sheldon Keefe discussed the absence of Auston Matthews, Jack Campbell, and Ondrej Kase from practice, Nick Ritchie’s response since he was placed on waivers, and William Nylander’s continued evolution into a complete player.
A short practice for the #Leafs today. D-pairs appeared to be same, but no real groupings as far as forwards go.
— David Alter (@dalter) January 9, 2022
Do you have an update on Auston Matthews, Jack Campbell, and Ondrej Kase, who didn’t participate in the skate?
Keefe: Just maintenance days at this point for Jack and Auston. Kase, I was told, his skate went well today. Again, we’re just using the extra day. We will see how tomorrow is for him. He continues to progress. He did not feel well enough at this point to do the full workout on the ice.
Is the window a little bit too tight to get Engvall and Marner off of the Covid list and into one of the next two games?
Keefe: I think there are a couple of different things at play. Most importantly, both Mitch and Pierre are doing very well in terms of not having any symptoms or anything like that. That is important, but there are a lot of other things at play. Tomorrow, we will have a better idea of what that will look like. It is not ruled out at this point, but there a lot of different things at play.
Is there an issue with Mitch beyond Covid?
Keefe: Nope. It is just time off the ice. As we have seen with different players, everybody responds differently. It is really about Mitch and how he is feeling coming out of that.
When you have the luxury of all of these days between games, how does it change what you do in terms of preparation between games?
Keefe: I think each situation is a little bit different. In the early going, coming out of the Christmas break and our Covid pause, it was getting guys back up to speed. In this case here, we are in the early going of a pretty lengthy and challenging road trip.
On a day like today, coming off of yesterday and traveling into Vegas, we wanted to get the guys on the ice, get a sweat, touch the puck, and stay sharp. We are trying not to give them too much. We discussed the game last night and how that played out. The meeting, to me, was the most important part of the day today. On the ice, it was keeping the guys sharp.
We do have the luxury to now reset. We have a good, hard practice day tomorrow to get ready for a very challenging Vegas team here.
We have asked you about Nick Ritchie a lot lately. How has Nick handled the downs of being scratched and being waived? What is your take on how he is going through this particularly low moment for him in his career?
Keefe: He is handling it very well. If last night’s game is any indication, he scored a huge goal for us. I would say he has handled it extremely well. When a player is going through this, you tend to watch him from a distance — how he is interacting with the guys, what is his mood like? Is he changing how he has been previous to that?
I don’t think he has. Nothing has really changed in the sense of what he has been like around our team and his teammates. He is a popular guy. That is why the guys were so happy to see him score last night. He is dealing with as well as anybody could.
William Nylander is in the midst of a career year. It seems like you saw this happening for him — that this was a level he could get to. Can you talk about the growth you have seen from him?
Keefe: I think he has handled the increased responsibilities very well. Everybody wants to play more and everybody wants to play in more situations. When given those opportunities, you have to deliver.
When we talk about being on the ice and killing penalties, that is part of it. There is a whole other piece where you are adding 82 meetings a season you have to sit through. You are adding practice meetings. You are adding time with the coach. It is a big responsibility. You are adding more onto the plate that you have to think about in preparation for every game.
There is a lot of stuff that goes into these added roles. With the goalie out, at 6-on-5 — those are meetings, those are discussions. All of these kinds of things go into your preparation that you didn’t have previously. I think he has handled that all very well.
The actual execution — he has taken that on. Like with all of our players, we are seeking consistency. We want that all the time. I think that is still the next phase for Will. We have gotten more of that this season than previous. It has been huge for us.
We want each of our guys to get better. Will has been a very good player in the league throughout his time in the NHL. We want him to be at the point where he is impacting the game in more ways than just offense and doing it consistently. We think he has done that this season more than in the past. We think he can continue to get better in the second half.
Is Vegas one of the harder places to keep the team from going out for a walk and seeing a couple of sights?
Keefe: There is nothing wrong with the guys going for a walk. We are always encouraging the guys to go out and get out of the hotel. That is one of the nice things this season — and even last season when we’re pretty much in our own little bubble still — which is just getting out on walks. That is not uncommon. It is a nice sunny day out here. We want the guys to get out and enjoy that.
We got some work in today and will again tomorrow. We know there is a challenging game ahead on and we trust them to be prepared.