After practice on Friday, Sheldon Keefe discussed Nick Robertson’s placement on a line with John Tavares and William Nylander, Wayne Simmonds’ 1,000-game milestone, and the challenge against Vancouver on Saturday night.
Practice Lines – March 4
Rasmus Sandin missed practice due to illness. Ondrej Kase practiced but his status remains up in the air for Saturday night vs. Vancouver.
New-look Leafs lines and D:
Bunting — Matthews — Marner
Robertson — Tavares — Nylander
Mikheyev — Kampf — Engvall/Kase
Kerfoot — Spezza — Simmonds
Rielly — Liljegren
Brodie — Holl
Dermott — Lyubushkin
*Rasmus Sandin is not practising
— Jonas Siegel (@jonassiegel) March 4, 2022
What do you like about Nick Robertson on the Tavares-Nylander line if he does play there tomorrow night?
Keefe: With Nick here, we have been trying to get a sense of where he is at in his development and what he might be able to provide to our team. We are familiar with him given that he has played for us in the past. We just want to see where he is at coming off of his injury.
That is really what this recall has been out from my perspective — spot him in and give him an opportunity. I think he has done well with the time he has gotten.
Today, in practice, we wanted to get him some reps with those guys on that line. Even practicing higher up in the lineup is different in terms of where the plays are, how the plays are made, how the puck moves around, and the pace. I wanted him to have that experience in practice.
We will make lineup decisions and line decisions once we know who is available tomorrow.
As Wayne Simmonds is set to hit 1,000 games, what has he meant to the group in terms of his professionalism and what he brings?
Keefe: He means a great deal. He brings a lot of spirit to our group. He is a passionate guy and a vocal guy. Both our dressing room and our bench are a lot louder since he has come around. Obviously, he is very competitive.
It is an incredible accomplishment for him to get to 1,000 games — not just his story, his history, and where he has come from, but this guy also has never had an easy game. With the way he plays the game, the game has extra demands on someone like him. It is impressive.
We are incredibly proud of him. It will be a terrific moment and a terrific night for him and his family.
Do you remember coaching against him when you were with Pembroke and he was on Brockville?
Keefe: I do. I don’t know if I was on the bench and coaching or not, but regardless, Brockville always has been and I am sure still is a big rival of Pembroke. I remember him very clearly playing a very similar game. He had the puck a loot. He had skill and brought it to the net. But he was a fierce competitor.
I can vividly remember one of our guys — who is older, much older than him — trying to pick a fight with him. It did not go very well for our guy. That stands out to me. I have had a chuckle with Wayne about that.
I certainly noticed him before then, but from that moment, he definitely had my attention. For anyone who was involved in our league at that time, we weren’t surprised to see his success when he moved on to the OHL and onward from there.
How does moving Auston Matthews around on the power play change the dynamic a little bit?
Keefe: Obviously, it gives the opponent lots more to think about both in their preparation and in the power plays themselves. When Auston is static in one place, it is a lot easier to track. You can find that lane and set your coverage and positioning.
As he moves and others move, the threats change, the angles change, and all of those kinds of things. It forces the opposition to communicate and sort it all out. We want our power play to be dynamic and to move around.
Really, for us right now, we want the puck to move around more than anything. I thought our power play was okay the other night. We obviously didn’t get a lot of opportunities to get it working, but I thought we did a good job of getting set, moving it around, and getting some shots.
The puck speed, shots, and recoveries are really what we are looking for no matter what our setup looks like.
There is a big difference between Vancouver’s PK and your PP efficiency, but you obviously can’t bank on that.
Keefe: The game is played on the ice. There has been a big uptick in their penalty kill since the coaching change. A lot of things are backed by strong goaltending, which we experienced when we were out there in Vancouver. We just have to try to make things as difficult as possible in terms of volume of shots and movement and things like that on and off the puck.
Coming off of a rough game on Wednesday and with three games in four nights coming up, did that lead to a longer practice today?
Keefe: We had the day off yesterday. These opportunities to practice like today are few and far between where we haven’t played the night before. We had some extra things we wanted to pile in. We got started a little bit later than we wanted today, so that made the day seem a little bit longer than it perhaps really was.
There were some things we wanted to get done today. Practice time is not going to be readily available for us for a little while after this.
Is it Jack Campbell in net tomorrow?
Keefe: Jack will go tomorrow, yeah.