After practice on Saturday, Sheldon Keefe discussed the latest on Matt Murray and Rasmus Sandin’s injuries, the decision to swap Mitch Marner and William Nylander on the right wing in the top six, Auston Matthews’ lack of puck luck this season, and Ryan O’Reilly’s faceoff ability.
Practice Lines – February 25
Lines at Leafs practice
Bunting – Matthews – Marner
Tavares – O'Reilly – Nylander
Engvall – Kampf – Jarnkrok
Aston-Reese – Acciari – Kerfoot
Rielly – Brodie
Giordano – Liljegren
Sandin – Holl
Benn – Timmins
— Mark Masters (@markhmasters) February 25, 2023
Matt Murray was saying he is feeling pretty good. What is your approach with him now going on the road?
Keefe: Just to continue to get him out there and put him in different situations. I think he is feeling good. It is just a matter of ensuring things don’t flare up or get worse or anything like that. He is in a good spot. Now, we are just looking to increase his workload throughout.
Did the extra few days accomplish what you were hoping for with Rasmus Sandin?
Keefe: It seems that way. He is feeling really good today. Our intention is to get him going tomorrow. I haven’t talked to him or anything since, but when I spoke to him before the practice, he woke up feeling good.
Another practice would move him further along. He was really close yesterday. I would expect him to be ready tomorrow.
What went into the decision to swap Mitch Marner and William Nylander in the top six?
Keefe: William with O’Reilly is something on my list of things I wanted to look at at some point. It feels like we’ve been through a segment of four games here now with the lines being a certain way. We are heading out on the road, and it’s a different look.
It just gives me an opportunity to continue to check [off] on the different things I want to look at in the remaining schedule.
The reunion of Mitch Marner and Auston Matthews — is the hope it’s a spark for Matthews as he looks to find the net again?
Keefe: Obviously, we hoped that would be one of the benefits. It is not necessarily the reason for the switch. I think Auston and Willy have been really good throughout the season — and that is both ways. Willy has helped Auston. Auston has helped Willy.
As I said, we have a pretty good sense now that Mitch, O’Reilly, and those guys are comfortable and confident. We’ve had John on the wing, and we will stay with that. We have been wanting to make sure Willy gets time there with O’Reilly to see where that goes.
The timing works right, especially with us going out on the road now for a stint. With the remaining schedule here, as I have talked about, I don’t want to be bouncing around every game. I want to give each different look some time to work together and develop some chemistry.
I have to be mindful of the schedule that is coming. There are a few things I want to look at for sure. It gives us some time with the games remaining, but I want to do it in segments. Before you know it, we’re going to run out of segments here. We have to make sure we continue to work through some different options.
Matthews was saying that the lack of puck luck feels like it’s been there all season for him. Last year, it was going in all the time. What is your sense of how he has navigated it?
Keefe: He has done a good job. The thing that I like the best, of course, is that throughout the pucks not going his way and not falling to the same degree as the high standard he set last season, he hasn’t cheated the game at all. He has remained diligent in his defensive play.
For a lot of offensive players, especially those that have expectations of themselves and expectations and pressures from outside, if it doesn’t go your way, there is a tendency to make that your priority, start cheating and get on the wrong side of the puck. All of a sudden, the team game starts to slip.
That hasn’t happened with Auston. Even anything, he has dug in even harder defensively to have greater impacts that way while looking to try to work his way out of it from there. That is what has impressed me the most: He hasn’t flinched in terms of his commitment away from the puck.
Does the last change influence how you approach the lines at home vs. on the road?
Keefe: You think about it less when you are on the road. You don’t have the ability to necessarily counter. Sometimes, you can manipulate the line changes and matchups just with how you flow the group. You are working more so on changing on the fly to get your matchups.
Generally, on the road, you think less. You just put your group out. You roll them. On faceoffs, in particular, you just put your group out and allow the opposition to do what they want to do. Sometimes, it can help. Your bench gets more flow, and guys get going. I think that can help your team.
There are certainly benefits to having last change, and if you had your choice, that is certainly what you are going with, but there are some benefits to being on the road and letting your guys get out there.
What is your sense of Ryan O’Reilly and his ability to win so many faceoffs so consistently?
Keefe: He has been a strong faceoff guy throughout his career. For whatever reason, since he has been here, it has been an even higher standard. It is probably one that is going to be difficult to sustain, but he is definitely feeling it.
I haven’t talked to him about it specifically, but he is a smart guy. He gets in there. He has that long blade. He gets under sticks. He also has the ability to adjust to the opponent. I think that is a big part of it.
Sometimes, if you don’t have the ability to counter or adjust when you lose a couple, it can really go bad on you. The strongest faceoff guys have the ability to adjust on the fly to ensure things keep going. At the same time, there is the ability to adapt even if you are going. Sometimes, you can think, “This is working, so I’ll stick with it,” and it starts to get away from you.
I think he has just found ways to continue to be consistent at winning draws. I think our wingers do a really good job of cleaning things up, too. That is a priority for us.
Over the next four days before the trade deadline, are there many conversations between you and Kyle, or is it more on a need-to-know basis?
Keefe: I think it is more of a need-to-know basis at this point. We have talked a bunch. I don’t think there is anything that is going to happen between now and the deadline with our group that is going to impact any of the decisions that have been made in terms of the directions they want to go.
With my job over this next stretch, in terms of the level of competition and the road trip, I have enough to worry about this week. Kyle and the management group are going to do their thing. We are just going to continue to do our job and work to keep trying to get wins.