After practice on Thursday, Sheldon Keefe discussed his team’s lack of discipline in the Game 2 loss, the adjustments needed on the penalty kill, matchups without last change on the road, and the team’s ability to respond after losses this season.
How do you balance not overreacting to a loss against making changes to the lineup looking ahead to Game 3?
Keefe: We have time to process it. It is a quick turnaround because of a travel day and a non-practice day. We haven’t dug too deeply into anything for tomorrow yet. We were just chatting a little bit about yesterday.
We will make our decisions. We will see how the group is doing from a health perspective and make our determinations from there.
If Jason Spezza gets into the lineup, what are you expecting from him given the way that he has played down the stretch for you?
Keefe: I would expect a veteran player like him to know how to play. He is not going to panic. He trusts his ability and his skill.
What challenge does Anthony Cirelli present as a shutdown forward?
Keefe: He is a good, smart player. He has good instincts and a good stick. He is a guy who doesn’t take too many chances on offense. He is in good positions defensively. He is a good, reliable player for them.
The fact that the series is 1-1 might not be surprising, but is how we got here a little surprising in terms of how closely it has been officiated, your team scoring eight past Vasilevskiy, and both games getting kind of out of hand?
Keefe: Around the league, it has been a little bit of a surprise, frankly, in terms of how the games are called. There have been a lot of penalties and power plays. I haven’t watched or followed all of the games, but it seems like there is a real uptick in the calls early in the series.
It has been a lot of the interference and obstruction type of things that you are not accustomed to seeing called so tightly at this time. That has created a different feel from what you anticipated coming into the series for sure.
Is the officiating standard different than the regular season or from past playoffs as well?
Keefe: I think both. There has been a lot of attention and a lot of different things. We are not too focused on that. We have to do a better job of not giving them reasons to call anything.
What are the factors you stress with the discipline and staying on the right side of it?
Keefe: There are a couple of sides to it.
A) We had the first two power play last night. They had a too-many-men penalty, and they took a penalty after the whistle. It was their undisciplined play early that opened the door for us. We had some good power plays and some good action with lots of time in the zone. We weren’t able to get one in. That is the first thing: When it is called that way on the other side, you have to capitalize.
B) For us, we have to minimize our penalties. The one on Giordano yesterday is one that happens 50 times a game in front of the net on both sides. That one didn’t go our way. The second penalty to Kerfoot is one we cannot take at the end of the period. It had been good a period to that point for us. Now we have to kill it, give them another look, and it ends up being 1-0 at the end of the first.
Obviously, the two Simmonds penalties after the whistle are tough penalties for us to take. We have to manage that better. There are a lot of other things happening in the game, too. You can’t get down 1-0. You can’t compound the problem by giving them a breakaway.
What are you looking for from your fourth line right now?
Keefe: Energy, physicality, and time spent in the offensive zone. They ended up with a shift in the first period at the tail end of it where I put Marner with them. Our lines were jumbled up a bit there, and I put Marner with Simmer and Blackwell. It ended up being one of our best shifts of the game, actually. That is the type of shift you would like to see from those guys.
How did you feel about Jack Campbell’s game last night?
Keefe: I thought he made good saves. There were a lot of challenging looks on that power play. With Kucherov, you never know if he is going to shoot, pass, when he is going to shoot it, or who he is going to pass it to. He presents a lot of challenges for a goalie. We have to make it easier on him when we can on our penalty kill.
Otherwise, I thought he battled. I thought he made good saves for us. It is not a reason why we didn’t win the game.
Does there need to be tweaks to the penalty kill, or was it more a byproduct of the number of opportunities you gave them?
Keefe: If you look at the first two goals that went in, the first one we got a clear with 15 seconds left in the first period. We had an opportunity to stand, hold our line, defend our zone, and not let them get set. Instead of not allowing that to happen, they get a Grade-A chance right at our net. That is one where you don’t deny the entry.
On the second goal, we have full possession of the puck. The guy doesn’t have his stick. Now we are running around, they reset, and it is in. When you have opportunities to get clears, you have to get them. The more time they spend set, it is a challenge. You are not going to be able to hold them off for too long when you do that.
The success that we had in Game 1 was the result of us disrupting them a lot and not letting them get set. That is really what we are looking for.
With Tampa having last change for the next two games, how do you anticipate that will impact how you deploy players?
Keefe: We will see what Tampa is going to go with and make decisions on our lines and lineup, too. That might impact how they counter. Obviously, it gives them a bit of an edge.
I think the biggest thing is how they will manage their defense. From a forward perspective, I think it is going to be more determined by faceoff locations. I would imagine you are going to see Point, Cirelli, and Killorn trying to get a lot of time against Matthews.
From our perspective, at five on five, we have done a pretty good job in the series so far. We want to continue that on the road and try to even get better with it. And then our focus is to try to get the edge on special teams.
What do you like about how your team has responded to losses this season aside from that winless slump in October?
Keefe: We have done a good job of that as a team. I have no doubt that we will bounce back again for sure. We know that Tampa is going to go back home with confidence and all of those kinds of things, but as we talked about coming into the series, when our team has been challenged, we have responded very well.
We know what we are in for here now. We have to go on the road, play a good road game, and find a way to get a win.
How positive is it that Matthews and Marner are starting to roll early in the season?
Keefe: It is really positive that those guys are feeling good. They have found ways to score. You come into it with Vaislievskiy back there and you know it is going to be a challenge to score. For those guys to find the scoresheet early on is good for us.