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

After practice on Friday, head coach Sheldon Keefe discussed the status of Wayne Simmonds and Noel Acciari in their absence from practice, the call-up of Radim Zohorna, Ryan O’Reilly’s progress toward a return, and the quality of the team’s play in the month of March.

Practice Lines – March 31

What is the status of the missing players in Wayne Simmonds and Noel Acciari?

Keefe: Simmonds is sick today. We will see how he is throughout the remainder of the day and make a decision as to whether we can or should get him out to Ottawa.

Acciari’s plan today was to get back implemented with the group in the pre-practice setting and work with guys there. There was never a plan for him to be in practice. That was all scheduled today. He is not going to be available this weekend. We will just continue to inch him along.

It is similar to O’Reilly — different injuries, but similar — in that we want to be certain that those guys are feeling 100% before they’re back in.

What is Acciari’s injury?

Keefe: He has a neck injury. It is a bit of a whiplash situation he is dealing with.

He has been feeling good. He was probably wanting to do a little bit more today, but because we are not going to play him this weekend, it made sense to be a little more cautious with it.

How encouraging is it to see Ryan O’Reilly back at practice?

Keefe: It is nice to have him back with the group. Obviously, he brings a lot with his energy and personality. To be in the actual practice is great.

Of course, it helps us fill some of the gaps. When you are injured, you miss some things, especially for a new guy coming in. There are some things that you are covering that you are not up to speed on as much. It is a lot easier to do that when you are actually with the group.

It is nice there. Obviously, it is a big step for him — one that has been coming. I think he is feeling really good. It is just a matter of the doctors being satisfied and making sure we are minimizing risk as much as we can.

Is one of the benefits with O’Reilly that he is so experienced, so when he does come back, it won’t take long for him to get back up to speed?

Keefe: [It won’t take long] from what I have learned about him in the short time he did play for us. He is a guy who has incredible intelligence and sense of how to play the game. He works incredibly hard to make sure he is as close to game ready as he can be without actually playing in the games.

This is a guy that, for me, plays with playoff intensity and playoff intelligence all the time. He is smart with the puck. He plays for the team all the time — he plays a very, very smart game. In terms of ramping up and getting ready for the playoffs, that is just who he is all the time.

What do you know about Radim Zohorna?

Keefe: I don’t know a lot. Because of the Simmonds situation, it kind of crept up on us late. He arrived at the building late. It was kind of rushed getting him here and diverting him from Marlies practice to here.

I know when they acquired him that he is a big guy with skill. He has played in the league before with both Pittsburgh and Calgary. We will see how things go throughout today and tomorrow and make a determination on the lineup.

Certainly, it is nice — if we are going to use him — that we got him into a practice and got him familiar here. He didn’t even know how to get into the building — or get to this side of the building, I should say. He is new to me and new to all of our staff on this side of the building.

There is a lot going on there for him, but it is certainly beneficial to get him into practice.

When he is ready, is your ideal lineup set, or are there still a lot of moving parts with eight games left until the playoffs? Do you know what the ideal lineup looks like?

Keefe: I think I do if the playoffs were to start today or tomorrow, but a lot can happen over the course of eight games, whether it is injury or performance. You are monitoring the opposition and all of those kinds of things.

We have a sense of what we would do, but until we have all of the information, there is no reason to solidify anything necessarily, especially in this case where O’Reilly is not even present.

What do you make of the month of March the team just played with all of the moving parts and the new players coming in and getting acclimatized?

Keefe: It is one where you look at the results and then the actual points that we acquired, and it is below the standard of what we would expect.

Reflecting on it, I think we won some games against some real top teams and tough competition. I thought we did a really nice job of not letting it snowball, whether it was a loss or a poor performance. We bounced back really well.

In particular, with how we finished the month with the last four or maybe five games, we have controlled play really well. We have out-chanced the opposition in each game. We have found a way to defend well, generate chances, and put ourselves in a position to win.

When we look at the last time we were out in Ottawa, we were outshot pretty badly, but expected goals and scoring chances are still in our favour. That is a sign that you are doing some good things defensively and you are making each one of your opportunities on offense count. I think we have done that.

Especially with how we went through that road trip and then the other night, I think we are controlling play really well. That is a sign that things are really coming together no matter what the lineup looks like — 12 and 6 or 11 and 7. The guys have done a really good job and I have been really pleased with the process through the last week to two weeks of the month.

Obviously, we are making some mistakes at some different times that we want to clean up to ensure that we don’t leave any points on the table.

Where do you feel William Nylander’s game is at as he tries to work his way back to his top level?

Keefe: I think we have seen signs of him skating well and being on the puck. I think he has a much better understanding at this stage of his career — and certainly in this season with how it has gone for him — of what he needs to do to succeed and how to reconnect with that. It is just a matter of continuing to work through it.