Sheldon Keefe, Toronto Maple Leafs practice
Sheldon Keefe, Toronto Maple Leafs practice

After practice on Friday, head coach Sheldon Keefe discussed Wayne Simmonds entering the lineup on Saturday in Winnipeg, Nicolas Aube-Kubel sitting out, the upcoming five-game road trip, and his team’s performance through five games (3-2-0).

Practice Lines – October 21

Is it just a maintenance day today for Auston Matthews?

Keefe: Yeah, we give him those days throughout the season. He played a lot of minutes yesterday. He got a little bit banged up, too. It was a pretty easy one to give him. He was in, got his work in, and was doing his thing in the gym getting ready for tomorrow.

Wayne Simmonds was saying that Matthews never complains despite all of what he goes through. What does it say about him that he is able to keep going?

Keefe: It is really impressive for a guy that draws so much attention from the opposition. We have talked about it over the years that he hasn’t drawn many penalties. I don’t know if you could find many examples of when he’s complained or been emotional about it. He just plays the game and allows the referees to call the game as they see it. Maybe the coach has a few things to say from time to time, but Auston himself just plays and takes care of what he can take care of. He doesn’t look for any additional help or anything like that.

The calls against him last night were definitely warranted, and there were probably a couple of others in there that could’ve been called in addition to that. It was a subtle and sneaky cross-check from Benn on Auston there — a hard one to find or to call — but those are the ones that the league doesn’t want to see. More often than not, those types of things would be called if they were seen.

Again, he just played through it the rest of the game, and he ends up making the big play to win us the game in overtime.

What made you want to give Wayne Simmonds a look tomorrow night in Winnipeg?

Keefe: We don’t want him to sit too long now that we have the flexibility to move guys in and out. I thought Wayne had a good camp with us. There are a number of guys — whether it is Wayne, Kyle Clifford, or guys that haven’t played with us that are down with the Marlies — that had good camps.

With Wayne and Kyle Clifford in particular, they are guys that were important parts of our team, our culture, and our group. Having Wayne up here and having the flexibility with our lineup and roster, it is important to get him involved.

What is the message to Nicolas Aube-Kubel, who is new and is trying to find his way around the team?

Keefe: I think he has done some good things for us. Physically, in the games he has played, he has pretty much led the way for us. We like that about his game. I think there are other areas that just haven’t quite come together here yet. That is what we talked about.

His coming out of the lineup is frankly less about him and more about wanting to get Wayne involved. At the same time, my message to Kubie is that he has not done enough to where he is not part of that conversation in terms of coming out to make room for Wayne.

That is kind of where we are at. Everyone here is important, and we are going to need everybody to be at their best. That includes Simmer, who is going to go in.

When you get your opportunity again, continue to get better.

You now have the ability to bring extra bodies with you on the roster. What is the value of that, and might you bring some extra guys with you on the road trip?

Keefe: It is nice to have, especially when you go out on the road and you head out West. Getting guys is a challenge. I think it is just very good to get more people involved because you know you are going to need more than the ones you started the season with. It turns out it was pretty quick that we needed guys. That is the reality of it.

With Wayne, we were talking about not letting him sit around for too long and getting him in for some action. We are going to need guys. Having more people around and playing is good and healthy for our team.

At the same time, it is an extra layer of competition and accountability to everyone’s play. That is important. We still haven’t found our groove and rhythm as a team, so it makes it a little bit easier for me to make some of those decisions.

How happy are you with how Ilya Samsonov has fit in and performed?

Keefe: He has been great. It is not just how he has performed, but it’s how he has put in the work and his demeanor around the facility coming into a new team. I think he is really starting to earn the respect and the trust of the group. Guys are starting to get a sense of his personality and he is fitting in really well that way. We can’t help but be really encouraged and positive about what he has brought to us so far.

Wins and losses get magnified early in the season, but it feels like a lot has happened around this team in the first week and a half of the season. Is it the nature of a Canadian market?

Keefe: It is the nature of the market. It is the way that it goes, but it is also because there are high expectations of our team. There are high expectations for us internally, too, but we have to keep things in perspective. We know it is an 82-game grind. We just have to keep getting better every day.

What have you liked about the team so far? There has been a lot of criticism from the outside, but what have you liked about what you have seen through five?

Keefe: The three games that we have won are very tight games where we have to be very disciplined or resilient and respond to moments where things go wrong. Our team has shown that. That is what you are hoping would happen with a team as experienced as ours. That has been really positive for me.

We have found ways to get six points here despite the fact that we haven’t found our rhythm quite yet. Whether it is at five-on-five or on the power play, we haven’t started to click yet. We will. We have great confidence that this is the case. It is not unlike last season. That ended up being one of the best offensive teams in the league with a lot of guys that had career highs. We expect that we will get there again.

It is a process. We have to be patient with it. We have to just keep trying to get better every day.

What are you looking forward to with the next five games on the road?

Keefe: It comes at a good time early in the season when the guys can get away. A five-game trip is a long one for sure, but we are going to great cities. It is a good opportunity for the group to be together, have fun, and compete on the road. I think it is a really good and healthy thing.

We had our trip to Gravenhurst, and that was a good one for us, too, but this one is in the thick of the season. In terms of competing every second night or so and traveling to different cities together, it is a really good and healthy thing for our group.

Is there any clarity on Jake Muzzin’s status? There have been some reports that it is looking like it’s long-term.

Keefe: I haven’t had any updates either way. I think it might be today that he is supposed to have another follow-up appointment. There may be more after that, but for now, we are going to continue to let things settle down for him and get a better idea of where he is at.

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