After practice on Sunday, Sheldon Keefe discussed his first-half reflections, Jake Muzzin’s return to practice, the play of the Tavares and Nylander line recently, and the challenge against the Carolina Hurricanes on Monday night.
Practice Lines – February 6
#Leafs line at practice Feb. 6/22
— David Alter (@dalter) February 6, 2022
What is the outlook for Jake Muzzin? It was good to see him back at practice. How do you get him eased back into game action?
Keefe: Today, being on the ice for full practice and full contact, is a big step, obviously. Given that it is only one day here before game action, I don’t know if that means he will be available to play tomorrow. I think they will sort through that.
Regardless, it is a good and important step here. We didn’t practice at all through the break. For him to just come in and be feeling well enough to step into a full practice is a very good sign.
Where do you see the biggest room for growth for your team in the second part of the year?
Keefe: I think it is the consistency of how we play and how we defend. That is really it. I think we have had lapses at different times — whether that is segments in the schedule or segments within certain games. We are just seeking greater consistency there.
Every team is striving for that. It is hard to attain. It is certainly something that we have to increase our focus on — both in what we address in practice and in our meetings with the team and also what we focus on and stress in games as well.
We have certainly ramped that up as we have slipped in that area here as we went through January. Coming back into February now, entering the second half of the season, it is a new month and all of those kinds of things. There are lots of reasons for us to put January aside with how we played despite the fact that we found ways to get great results.
Is tomorrow going to be one of the most challenging special teams games with how good Carolina is in both departments? Can you speak to Dean Chynoweth’s contributions in that area for you?
Keefe: Two really good teams on special teams. It is going to be tight that way. The team that can get the edge on special teams would be at a great advantage. It is two teams that generally the special teams give them a great edge whether it is us or them. With the two teams going at it like that, we are going to have to be really prepared and ready to execute against a very difficult penalty kill and challenging power play.
In terms of Dean Chynoweth and what he has brought us — first of all, he is very prepared. He has our group very prepared every day to know what to expect from the opposition. He stays on top of the details of our penalty kill, whether that is the collective units or working with guys individually. He has brought a good plan right from the beginning of the season and meeting with us as a staff and the players themselves.
A lot of that foundation was what he brought into Carolina and worked with them in their system. There are a lot of similarities with how the team kill penalties for sure.
Have you put some thought into how you are going to plan the goalie starts this week?
Keefe: We thought about it. In fact, we thought about it before going into the break. Mrazek is going to start tomorrow. When we made the decision in the final game there to put Jack back in after a game in which Mrazek had played very well, we thought it would be important to get him back in as quickly as we can.
When you combine that with the fact that Jack didn’t have as much as a break necessarily, it just made a lot of sense to commit to that with Petr and get him going. It gives us an opportunity to get Jack ready for Calgary.
What would you like to see more of from the Tavares line?
Keefe: Offensively, I think they need to be a little bit more direct and play quicker with the puck and without the puck. We are playing against a team tomorrow that is really going to require that.
I think that is a big part of when you look at the success Nylander and Kerfoot have on the wings. A lot of that comes through speed off of the puck, moving their feet, playing without the puck, and getting in good spots.
I think that is an important piece for that line to really get themselves going both on the rush and into the offensive zone. That is really it. I think we will see those guys come back from the break refreshed and ready to get back being what was a very productive line for us.
With coming back off of this layoff, do you think your team is used to it at this point in terms of the number of gaps in the schedule this year?
Keefe: I think our guys, as much as they want to be up and running and play a lot of games… We had the three games in four days before we finished up at the break, but guys have gotten comfortable in these situations here with the long gaps between games. As much as we know the busy schedules are coming, it is going to be another 10 days or two weeks before it starts to really heat up towards the end of the month and into the month of March.
This is something here where we have a practice here, a game day, and two practice days after this before we head out to Calgary. We will look to utilize that to get our game back going again. Today was more about just getting the body moving again and touching the puck. We couldn’t overdo it today with the guys getting back in, getting comfortable, and getting back on the ice.
A lot of guys were traveling; not just the guy with Auston and Jack in Vegas, but other guys were traveling from all over and aking their way back here. We have to play a game tomorrow. Today is really just about preparing for tomorrow. We will get back to work on Tuesday in terms of really prepping for the remainder of the month and the busy schedule that lies ahead.