After practice on Wednesday, Sheldon Keefe discussed his decision to start Erik Källgren tomorrow night against Carolina, scratching Wayne Simmonds for the second game in a row, Rasmus Sandin’s impressive game against Dallas, and more.
Practice Lines – March 16
Lines at Leafs practice
Bunting – Tavares – Marner
Nylander – Kerfoot – Kase
Mikheyev – Kampf – Engvall
Clifford – Spezza – Robertson
Rielly – Lyubushkin
Brodie – Holl
Sandin – Liljegren
Muzzin – Dermott
— Mark Masters (@markhmasters) March 16, 2022
Is Erik Källgren going back in tomorrow night? Is it at simple as going back to a guy who pitched a shutout?
Keefe: Yep. Not a lot of thought goes into it. It’s as simple as that. He obviously earned it last night. With the way the guys played in front of him, it is an easy decision.
What did it mean to you last night to pick up your 100th NHL career win?
Keefe: Not a lot, to be honest. It was nothing that was on my mind. Cris Cuthbert had mentioned it to me the other day at the outdoor game. I had no idea. I had forgotten about it again until last night. JT gave me the puck after the game.
It wasn’t on my mind, but what I will say about it is that coaches don’t win games. Teams do. From players to staff to everybody that makes up this organization, I am very fortunate to be able to be in this position and to coach this group.
If anything, it has provided me with the opportunity to say thank you to everybody for the work that they have done.
What about Mitch Marner stands out to you when Auston Matthews is gone in terms of how he steps for the team?
Keefe: I think it is just by being who he is and doing what he does. He is a guy who plays in every area of the game and is a key cog in everything that we are doing offensively and defensively, on the power play, and on the penalty kill. Whether Auston is in or not, none of that changes.
Whether it is him or anybody else, we just need them to continue to be who they are and do what they do. You are not looking for anybody to be superhuman or to do something they are not capable of doing.
A lot of teams in the league don’t have a player of the calibre of Auston Matthews. Those teams just find a way. We are no different. If you look at the games we have played without him, last night’s game reminded me a lot of the game we played out in Edmonton when we didn’t have Auston. There might have been a couple of 4-0 shutouts in there just the same.
The way the game felt in terms of how the guys played and competed felt very similar in that sense with the guys just going out and executing at a high level knowing that they are needed to do that. It was fun to watch them last night.
Was it a good step for Jake Muzzin to partake in a full practice today?
Keefe: Yeah, it is a good step. He probably did a little bit more out there than they wanted him to, which is a good sign in terms of how he is feeling. You are probably going to see in the next little bit him take a bit of a step back here now just to make sure he is feeling good and all.
Definitely, it is a positive step. At least from what they are telling me, I am not expecting him to be playing here in the next little while here, and certainly not this week.
How did you feel Kyle Clifford played last night?
Keefe: I thought he gave us good energy and good legs. He was on top of the puck. He is physical. I thought that line did a really good job on the forecheck. It seemed to spend more time in the offensive zone. There were a lot more things that I was looking for from that line that we got.
I thought Kase’s presence on that line added a lot, obviously. I also thought that it was a game where, in the bottom six, there were some good matchups there for us for that group. I thought they went out and performed well within that.
It is a real positive step for them. Tomorrow is going to be a different beast in terms of what we are up against in those matchups. It was a pretty good sample of what it is we are looking to get from that line.
What is your sense of how Petr Mrazek is handling this stretch where he is out of the net?
Keefe: I think he is handling it well. He is a confident guy. He has been through this kind of stuff throughout his career. He has had some downswings. He has also been a guy who has shared the net a lot.
I think it is not too big of a disruption for him in that sense. He is able to just focus here. My talk with him has really just been about using this time to his benefit. Erik has certainly earned another start. Use this time to your benefit, clear your head, do your work, and be ready when your next start comes.
Last season, early on, you experimented with Auston Matthews on the penalty kill, and you had him there in practice today. Do you expect that to happen again at some point, or is it a case where you can’t have everyone on the penalty kill?
Keefe: I do see potential for it, certainly, with his ability. For what you see today, it is just about keeping him busy because he is not on the power play in the prep for tomorrow. I wouldn’t read anything into it, but I think there is definitely great potential and opportunity there for him.
We have kind of pulled back on it. We started with it a little bit last season, but ultimately, especially this season, we feel really confident and comfortable with the penalty killers we have. It allows us to share the minutes a little bit better. Obviously, Auston plays a lot, so if we can take something off of his plate with the depth that we have, we think it makes sense.
Will Wayne Simmonds be a scratch for the game tomorrow, and is that a difficult conversation to have with him?
Keefe: Yes, he will. He and I spoke yesterday and I let him know where I was coming from on it. Obviously, Nick Robertson has been wanting to get a good run. Spezz missed some time because of that. Now Simmer is missing time. Obviously, Auston is out now too, but Kyle Clifford has been here and he has been working. He hasn’t had much opportunity. We had been wanting to get him involved.
That was really it yesterday. I thought those guys did a good job. We changed the lines up a little bit just because I think some of the matchups we will face tomorrow will be different than what we faced last night. A little bit of an adjustment there for us, but we still want to continue to give Nick an opportunity here to move around the lineup and try different things.
I thought he had some really good touches on the power play yesterday. We are going to keep him involved there and see how he looks on the right side with Spezz.
Rasmus Sandin mentioned that his illness set him back a bit, but he is feeling much stronger. Do you see him as back to his normal self?
Keefe: If last night’s game is any indication, I certainly would say that is the case. It definitely did take a hit — or he did take a hit, I should say — with the illness. It took him a while to bounce back. It probably took longer for him to even feel comfortable to leave his condo — longer than he expected.
We were patient with it. The defense was playing well in his absence. We were able to keep him out and give him an opportunity to build his strength and weight back up. I really liked his game last night. I thought he and Liljegren both were really good.
Are you talking to the team about really embracing the special teams challenge tomorrow given where the Hurricanes are in that area?
Keefe: You know with both of their power play and penalty kill that they are elite in both areas. We played them twice already this season. We have felt that. It is definitely a challenge we are going to have to be prepared for. We have to execute through a lot of pressure. On the penalty kill, we have lots of confidence in that area right now, but it will certainly be put to the test.
How do you like the St. Pat’s gear?
Keefe: I think it’s sharp. It’s bright. It’s different. I am trying to think now whether I have coached a game in this gear or not. I can’t recall. Last year, maybe. Two years ago, we practiced in it and then the season got canceled. That is my memory of it right now. It was nice seeing the guys flying around out there today.