After practice on Sunday, Sheldon Keefe discussed his team’s goaltending struggles, their recent defensive play, Ilya Lyubushkin’s acclimation to his new team, and the plan in net for this week’s games.

Practice Lines – March 6

When the puck does go in more than it did or should, is there any fear that the players in front of the goalie might start overcompensating and lose some of the structure?

Keefe: I think that is part of it. It is natural. Whether it is the structure piece of it or whether it is some of the emotional swings that happen, it is tough when the puck goes in your net at a high rate. It is hard to play as a player. You start thinking about other things.

That is the challenge for us here: to remain focused, do what we do well, clean up the things we need to get better at, and focus on how we play as a team. We are a real good team. I thought we carried play for long stretches of last night’s game.

Right now, with the way it is going, we have done a good job of defending against the rush. The odd-man rushes and things of that nature have been cut down significantly. As a result, we are getting teams that are relying on the low-to-high passes and throwing pucks at the net.

In a lot of cases, if you asked any coach in the NHL, that is what you would like to give up if you are going to give up anything. They are really low-percentage shots. Right now, we are allowing some tips and traffic to make those shots more dangerous. That is what we need to do a better job of.

Some of the numbers defensively would say you have actually gotten better defensively as the year has gone on. Is that how you have felt?

Keefe: I think we went through a stretch of games there — what stands out to me is the Western Canada trip, St. Louis, the Pittsburgh game, Montreal  — with the grade-A chances with odd-man rushes, 2-on-1s, and breakaways. In that area, I don’t think we did a good job of that.

We were giving up maybe not a large volume of shots and chances, but the ones we were giving up were really, really dangerous. I think we have cleaned that up dramatically since the Montreal game.

I think we have been far better defensively since that point, yes. No question. But we still have been giving up some of those tips, and those have been making life harder on our goalies. Our job as a team is to make life easy on the goalies.

That is where we are at, especially with where our goalies are at. They are trying to earn their confidence, and we need to help them in that area. Those are things we are in control of. We can do a better job in these situations.

What do you think Alex Kerfoot is bringing to the line with Jason Spezza?

Keefe: He is an experienced guy in the league. He is comfortable in who he is and how he plays. Putting him with two veteran guys with Spezza and Simmonds, I am hoping for lots of good chemistry there and the ability to talk, have good conversations, be prepared for their shift, and get things sorted out on the ice. That is part of it for sure.

Frankly, Kerf deserves to play more than he did last night and deserves to play higher in the lineup. It is just that circumstances being what they are, I have made the decision to give Nick Robertson a better opportunity. Last night, he did well on that.

We are really happy to see that. We think Engvall has brought a lot to the Kampf and Mikheyev line at the same time. We do have a deep team. Someone is always going to end up as forward #10, 11, 12. Minutes are going to be harder to come by.

I have to find ways to keep Kerf… He played too little last night, but that is sometimes just the way that it shakes out. He is an important player for us.

What is the approach this week going to be with your goalies heading into three games in four nights and then the outdoor game on the weekend?

Keefe: No different than we have. We know we are going to have to use both of them. We will continue to take it a day at a time.

Who is going to start tomorrow?

Keefe: Petr.

What is your sense of where Petr Mrazek is at coming off of the game on Wednesday versus Buffalo?

Keefe: Both guys are trying to find their rhythm and their confidence. I was watching the goalies today a little closer than I normally would in a practice. I was really happy with how those guys competed in the net today; Jack, especially, having played last night. I thought he was excellent today; he competed, he battled. Petr was just the same.

I watched part of the goalie session. They are getting their work in. I am looking ahead. I want those guys to take it a day at a time, look ahead, and not look behind them. Today, I thought it was a really good day.

As I reflect on Jack’s game last night, there were a couple that were real tough shots from the slot that any goalie is going to have a tough time with. There were a few others where he is so close. They are barely getting over the line.

I look at the day he had today, and I see a guy who looks close to finding his game again. We have talked about this a little bit with John Tavares. He is doing enough things that it feels like he is going to break out. He ultimately scored last night.

When I focus on the here and now and just look at today, both Petr and Jack had really good days today. Coming off of the last couple of starts each of them has had, that is a real good sign going into a busy stretch here.

What has the communication been like with Ilya Lyubushkin?

Keefe: His English is really good. I believe he understands everything. I have real good conversations with him. He asks good questions. Right from the very first time I met him, that was a very good sign, especially for a player coming in mid-season, to not have the language issues be there or not be as prevalent as you sometimes get with European and certainly Russian players.

He is a sponge. He wants to learn. He wants to ask questions. He wants to work. That has been really, really encouraging. We think he brings good things to the table for us. We want to see him improve in some areas of his game, especially with the puck. He is absolutely putting the work in to make those improvements.

Do you see the potential for him to take on more responsibility, or is he in a good place where he is right now?

Keefe: I think he is in a good place. We think some of the defensive pieces he can take a step in — penalty killing, playing against other teams’ good players. With the way we are set up right now, we like what is happening with Brodie and Holl.

We have Rielly there. We have a spot with Rielly available. But Morgan plays in a lot of offensive situations. With the way the puck moves and those kinds of things, it is important to have a guy there that pairs well with that and doesn’t disrupt our offense. That is something we are mindful of.

As I say that, if we look at some of the chances we generated last night, Lyubushkin is moving around the offensive zone. He had a great one-timer. We see some good potential there. We don’t want to force too much on him as he is adjusting and learning his teammates.

Part of what we talked about today is that he is feeling better around here in terms of knowing what we expect and what we are looking for from him. He knows his teammates. He is getting familiar with the defensemen we have here. We will continue to monitor that. We have been reluctant to do it to this point because we are trying to make sure he is comfortable.

What is Ondrej Kase’s status moving forward?

Keefe: He continues to be day-to-day. The fact that he practiced today is a good sign. He is not going to travel with us, but today was a good sign. The expectation is that he will stay back here, skate tomorrow, ramp things up a little bit, and be a possibility for Tuesday for us. They will just monitor that and make the appropriate decision.

Is Ramus Sandin staying home as well?

Keefe: Rasmus is staying home. He is still trying to shake [the illness]. He had a fever overnight last night. He is dealing with something now that has to work its way through. We are hopeful he can get on the ice tomorrow as well.