After practice on Monday, head coach Sheldon Keefe discussed the absence of Rasmus Sandin from practice, partnering Morgan Rielly with Timothy Liljegren, TJ Brodie’s status, and his thinking behind the Bobby McMann – David Kampf – Pierre Engvall line.

Practice Lines – January 16

Is there an update on Rasmus Sandin and Pontus Holmberg?

Keefe: One is still sick — Holmberg — and one has become sick. That is it.

Do you take extra precautions when a bug is going through the room?

Keefe: We try to be more conscious of course. We have gotten a lot better at that over the last few years. That said, once it starts, it is hard to slow it down. It is that time of year. We will have to manage it as best we can.

Unfortunately, we have some guys unable to be with our group. We will press on.

Just to confirm, it is not Covid-related?

Keefe: No, it is not. It is more flu-related.

Will it be Jordie Benn that will go if Sandin is not able to go tomorrow?

Keefe: He would be the last remaining option.

What has it been like to juggle the defense the way you have? So many of your defensemen have played with each other so often.

Keefe: When we started going through this in November, we had a number of defensemen out that you can either look at as, “this is going to be real tough on us,” or as, “this is a great opportunity to find out more about our guys.” We have been able to try different things and be that much more prepared if these situations present themselves later on in the season.

That is really it. We press on. The confidence we have gained with the way our team has played and pulled together at times when you are missing people… It gives you the confidence to keep playing.

Speaking of defense, Morgan Rielly mentioned he has to work on some things. How do you think he has been doing?

Keefe: I think he is still trying to find his game. Whether it is the physical part of it getting back in and the knee being strong and all of that — I think he has passed all of those tests and feels good with that, but getting back into the rhythm of his play hasn’t quite been there on both sides of the puck. We want to continue to work with him on that and be patient at the same time.

How can Timothy Liljegren maybe help Rielly out as a different kind of partner?

Keefe: It has been a bit of a rotation there mostly due to injuries and guys coming and going from the lineup. If Sandin is going to be out, Lily loses his partner as well. It is a little bit more natural for those guys to pair together.

We were reluctant to split up Giordano-Holl and Sandin-Liljegren pairings. We really like them. We thought it was important to have that stability in the Boston game.

That change allows us to look at some different things. I think Lily has done a really good job — no matter who he has been paired with — of just playing his game. You can see him getting really comfortable in the league, with who he is, and how he needs to play.

That should give Mo some confidence that way and allow him to start to settle into his game as well.

Is there any update on TJ Brodie’s status and the timeline for a return?

Keefe: When it first happened and we had all the information, they told me they expected it to be about two weeks. He is sort of trending that way.

I think he might’ve gotten on the ice for a little bit today. I am not quite sure how that went. I haven’t gotten an update on it. I think he has been progressing based on when I bumped into him, but he is not feeling ready yet to get back to full participation.

There was a spark with Michael Bunting, Auston Matthews, and Mitch Marner back together on Saturday. What made you go back to it?

Keefe: I think we have had a good rhythm with it that way. It is also good for me to know that the spark is there when I feel we need it and can benefit from it. I think this look has been good for us and the players have done well within it.

I don’t think I need to overreact or make too many changes coming out of that game, but it is good to know that works.

You’ve said you like Pierre Engvall and David Kampf together. Bobby McMann adds another element of size. How do you like that mix?

Keefe: I like it a lot. Bobby has built some positive momentum here that got stalled a little bit with his illness. It was nice to see him back today. He is working his way back to full health. He was saying he is not quite where he would like to be right now, but we will see where he is at in the morning and make our lineup decisions from there.

In terms of his presence and why I want him in that spot, I just feel the size and speed that he has is a good fit. Engvall has paired well with Kampf any time we have had him there. I think there are similar skill sets.

There were a couple of times in practice that between #47 and #74, it was throwing me off a little bit. It is nice to have another guy like that. We have liked what we have seen from him.

You are in the midst of a slew of divisional games here. How important are they for measuring yourselves?

Keefe: They are very important for lots of reasons — the standings, the measuring sticks, and all of that. We do have a very competitive division, of course. It is not just the Boston and Tampas of the world.

You can see all of the teams in our division are either really pushing or at different times have put together really good stretches of hockey and have been as good as any team in our division at different times. There are not a lot of free nights there when you are playing within the division.

The Florida team we are playing tomorrow is a team that was the President’s Trophy winner last year. They haven’t found that same level this season yet. They have a lot of those same ingredients that have allowed their team to still look good on paper and look good statistically — and dangerous offensively.

There are lots of reasons for us to continue to focus on our game and build off of the positive things we did the other night in Boston. At the same time, I think we can still find another level to our game even beyond what we had in Boston. Clearly, that one was not quite good enough.

You are going to see Matthew Tkachuk tomorrow. Does that feel like a game where Wayne Simmonds’ presence would be important?

Keefe: With all respect to Wayne Simmonds, I don’t know if any player would have any sort of impact on Tkachuk and how he plays.

Players like him don’t get thrown off based on that. They are who they are. They are ultimate competitors. It doesn’t faze them. I know they go into games knowing they are not going to have to fight anyone like that, so they are just going to go in, do their thing, and be who they are.

We have lots of other ways we have to be conscious of a player of that calibre, which is to make him defend, keep him away from our net, and not let him feel good about his game. That is more of my focus going into tomorrow.

Is it advantageous to see Florida play an afternoon game versus at night so everyone can take a look at the game this aft?

Keefe: Yeah, we have it on in there so you can get a look at it and get thinking about them maybe a little bit earlier, but in terms of our preparation as a coaching staff, the reality is that most of your work is done in advance, even if it was a night game.

You always sort of circle back and make sure that there is nothing too dramatically different, but aside from that, I think if anything, you look at it as not a traditional back-to-back with, A) the proximity to Buffalo, and B) the early start time. I think we will have a Florida team that will be ready for us tomorrow.