After practice on Tuesday, Sheldon Keefe discussed the status of Michael Bunting for Game 2, Ondrej Kase’s play in his first game back from injury, Pierre Engvall’s physicality in Game 1, the challenge ahead against the Lightning, and much more.
Practice Lines – May 3
Note: William Nylander and Pierre Engvall are expected to play tomorrow despite missing practice.
Leafs defence remains unchanged
Rielly – Lyubushkin
Muzzin – Brodie
Giordano – Liljegren
Sandin – Holl @TSN_Edge
— Mark Masters (@markhmasters) May 3, 2022
How did Michael Bunting look to you today? What sort of impact do you imagine he might make for Game 2?
Keefe: I thought he looked good. We haven’t made any determination on his status for tomorrow yet. We will see how he is when he comes in tomorrow morning and how it responded from pushing it again today.
In terms of when he comes back in this series — and we do believe he will play in this series at this point — he is a competitor who has produced offensively for us, has been a really good contributor to the line with Matthews and Marner, and he makes us another player deeper. All of those things are significant for us.
Do you think, with how the series has started, it suits Bunting’s game?
Keefe: A player like Bunts is made for playoffs. He thrives on it. He plays a lot of regular-season games like they are playoff games. That is what makes him successful. He is playing with a higher level of intensity all of the time. That evens out a little bit in playoff time because others bring their game up. But I wouldn’t be surprised if Bunts has another level to get to as well.
What is the determining factor for him in the next 24 hours as to whether he will play?
Keefe: Just as he has continued to get more work in, push himself harder, and partake in more contact situations, we will see how his injury responds. As long as it continues to go well, in terms of not having any flare-up or negative reaction, we believe he will be ready to play. If there is a setback in that sense, we will give him a little more time.
How close is Petr Mrazek to being an option as a backup?
Keefe: I think he is getting there. Today was his first taste of any sort of practice action. They will continue to work with him there and make decisions along the way. We have been really happy and content with what Kallgren has provided us. We are not thinking much outside of that at his point.
What was the mood in the locker room this morning?
Keefe: It’s both. If you come in after any win — regular season or playoffs, but certainly in the playoffs — you are feeling good. You are wanting to get back on the ice. You are wanting to continue to get to work. It is a lot easier to do that.
At the same time, there is an even-keeled approach to the whole thing. The guys know it is one game here. We are playing against a very good team that is going to respond very well tomorrow. The reality is that as well as we played yesterday — and as good as we feel about our game — we are going to have to play better.
The team made a really good goalie look human last night. What is that going to do for the shooters’ mindset? What are you expecting from Andrei Vasilevskiy for the rest of the series?
Keefe: I am expecting him to respond just like their team. Our mindset is not going to change there. Our mindset and respect we have for our opponent — none of that has changed. In fact, the level of respect we have for them is a big reason why we played the way that we did and were as focused and prepared as we were.
That won’t change. We know that we are playing against a team where a big reason why they won championships is that they respond. They didn’t sweep every series on the way to championships. They respond well after losses.
We took care of Game 1 yesterday, but the puck will drop tomorrow. Everything will reset. We will have to re-establish everything. We expect it to be a far different type of hockey game.
Obviously, it was special teams dominant. It is not often that you go into a playoff game and only play 31 minutes of 5v5 time. That is not what we would expect going forward. At five on five, there are a number of areas where we can get better.
How happy were you that Ondrej Kase got through the game and looked like himself?
Keefe: Thrilled. He looked like himself. I had a few clips today where he is absolutely giving us everything he has on the forecheck, backcheck, and in puck battles. We threw him right into the PK and he was good there.
I was thrilled that he not only played the game and got through the game but he did it confidently and didn’t change his game or alter how his approach is. He just went out and played. That is a really good sign for us and for him.
What have you seen in Jake Muzzin’s game since he re-entered the lineup last week?
Keefe: I think he has been great. He is engaged physically. In some ways, he simplified his game and put himself in good spots. He has found good chemistry with TJ Brodie. He has helped our PK. All of those things have been great.
He scored a huge goal for us last night. All of those things you feel good about. Just like every time you add a forward — be it Kase or Bunting — it makes our forwards deeper. When you put Muzzin in the mix, it makes our defense that much deeper as well.
What goes through your mind when you see someone like Morgan Rielly get dragged into the rougher stuff?
Keefe: You don’t like to see those kinds of things with the guys that are not used to being involved in that, but you do get dragged into it at times. That is the reality of it. It was somewhat calculated in that sense, but at the same time, we can debate it and say whatever we want, but it is a part of the game.
We are trying to win the game and how it is being played. Whatever the circumstances are, our players have to be ready for it. Whether it is that example or a number of others throughout the game, our players just stood in there.
Does David Kampf become a little bit more valuable to you in a playoff series?
Keefe: I think Kampf has been valuable to us all season, but certainly, at this time of year, for sure. His minutes were really high last night. He contributed in great ways and scored us a huge goal.
In particular, when you look at the workload of Matthews and Tavares, you can supplement that with putting Kampf in different spots and trust that he is going to be fine. In his own way, he is going to weigh on the opposition and wear them down. That is huge.
We haven’t had that. We didn’t have Tavares in the playoffs last season, but going all the way back to the bubble, it always felt like we were relying on our top two centers far too much in too many different ways.
Even putting Blackwell into the mix in terms of what he can do for us with his versatility makes a big difference. It is a big deal from a coaching perspective in terms of how I look at our lineup. I hope and believe we can sustain our play over the duration of the series.
We aren’t sure what is going to happen with Kyle Clifford and the Department of Player Safety. What is the message to him after last night?
Keefe: He has to toe the line, right? It is not an easy ask for a player like him. When you are him, you go on the ice, you want to get on top of the opposition quickly, you want to finish your checks, and you want to make your mark physically.
He had just finished a good check. The building is kind of erupting. All of a sudden, there is a second check there. It is a split-second decision and it wasn’t a good one.
He knows that. He has been around the game a long time and has played that way a long time. He paid for it at that moment. We paid for it as a team.
As it turns out, of course, in its own way, it turns out to be a bit of a positive for us. Right away, our team is tested. We are going to be tested in the playoffs. We are going to be tested again tomorrow night. Right away, early in the hockey game, we are tested big time against a really dangerous team that can really put us in a hole there with a five-minute power play.
As I talked about last night, the players’ demeanor did not change at all. If anything, they rallied around it. Whether it was the guys on the penalty kill or the guys like Matthews and Tavares who aren’t out there killing, they are cheering guys on and are excitedly waiting to get through it. They are ready to jump out of the gates and get going themselves.
It ended up being a real rallying point for the game early on. The crowd, going back to watch it again today, was incredible. All of those things, as it turned out, were turned into a positive, which is what I love. It was the main takeaway for me from the game. Our team did not get rattled by that.
Were you surprised Kyle Clifford received a hearing considering he missed most of the game last night?
Keefe: I think there is something to be said. Sometimes these hearings or suspensions come off of penalties or things that might have been missed in a game. In this case, he got a five-minute major, he was ejected from pretty much the entire game — or 50-something minutes of it — and there is something to be said for that.
I believe it should and I think it would come into account. In terms of what the right decision is, that is not in my hands. I am not too focused on that.
Did Pierre Engvall’s physical play surprise you at all?
Keefe: In terms of whether I am surprised, I wouldn’t say that. We have been talking a great deal about it. There is an expectation there that he can make a difference that way for us.
I thought last night he was as good as I have ever seen him in the NHL in that regard. I have seen him do it in the AHL, but he was great. He was great on the penalty kill. He was great in terms of how he was physically engaged and wore on the other team.
It is exactly what we need from him.