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

After practice on Sunday, head coach Sheldon Keefe discussed the Tavares – O’Reilly – Nylander line as well as Calle Jarnkrok and Matt Murray’s status ahead of the final three games of the season.

Practice Lines – April 9

What is the outlook for the injured players in Calle Jarnkrok and Matt Murray heading into the road trip?

Keefe: Jarnkrok had an MRI yesterday, and the results came back good. He will remain day-to-day, but he will travel with us and you may see him on the ice tomorrow, and if not, the next day. He is close.

No change in Murray’s status. At this point, he won’t travel with us.

Without Murray available, do you foresee Joseph Woll joining you on the road trip?

Keefe: I am not quite sure. There is a lot of stuff happening with that. Roster status is up in the air at this point in terms of what it will look like.

In the best-case scenario, would you play Ilya Samsonov twice in the final three?

Keefe: We will see. We are going to talk with him. That’s really where we are at. We will get a sense of where he is at through the whole rest vs. rust type of thing and get a feel for his expectations and what he feels most comfortable with. That includes tomorrow’s game.

We will look at that and talk with him. He skated on his own, so it was a lighter workload for him [on Sunday], but we will talk with him and make a plan.

Does the four-day break before the playoffs start factor into load management decisions at all? It is a big gap before you start.

Keefe: It does for sure. It is a longer break than the guys are accustomed to. There is time there for anything that might be aching to heal on its own and feel 100% going in.

At the same time, if you extend that much beyond that, you start to get into the territory where you’re out of rhythm. That is all part of it.

The roster and salary cap itself are going to be limiting in terms of what we are able to do anyway. We are just focused on the games that are ahead. We will make the decisions one game at a time.

Why do you think Ryan O’Reilly is able to complement John Tavares and William Nylander?

Keefe: He is obviously a very good player, but he is also a guy that I think makes life easier when he is out there in terms of how he plays and how he communicates on the bench and on the ice.

Those are two players in John and Will that are quiet. They are guys who do their talking on the ice with how they play. Sometimes, especially when you are starting to get in your head when things aren’t going great, [it’s good] to have someone that can get you going.

I thought that line was great. I thought Willy had his best game in a long time. He deserved a lot more goals than he did, but that will keep him hungry coming back. He should feel good about how he competed and played. I thought John played a really strong game.

It was a good night for us in a lot of ways. Tomorrow night’s game will be a different beast in terms of the emotions, intensity in the game, and what is at stake for the opposition. It will be another opportunity for us to test all of those things.

Can you pick up on the communication from Ryan O’Reilly when you’re on the bench?

Keefe: Yes. It is very obvious and very apparent. It is significant and brings a lot to our group.

How do you feel about William Nylander’s game right now given there has been a little bit of unevenness over the last little while?

Keefe: [Saturday] night was a good indication that he is motivated to work his way through it. I thought he was tremendous. He was taking guys on one-on-one. He was skating through traffic. He was skating through battles and getting on the other side to get a stick free and get a shot off.

On the power play, he did what I wanted him to do when he was on the ice with that group, which is to take charge and shoot the puck. One ripped off the bar. You want to see that go in for him, but that is the mindset. When Willy is at his best, that is what he is bringing.

We saw that [Saturday] night. I have seen signs of it in some other games. It was a good night for a guy like him to really find himself and get that swagger back a little bit. He should feel good about it.

It hasn’t gone as well for him. He acknowledges that, but we need to help him through it. Sometimes changing the mix a little bit — as we did [Saturday] night with his linemates and on the power play — can work in your favour.

What did you like about the top power-play unit on Saturday night?

Keefe: We scored four goals on it. I love that.

Some of them were kind of broken plays that found their way through. You like that.

I thought the group had some swagger to it. It was important for us to get them some touches together. We were fortunate to have a number of power plays.

At this stage of the season, you have two power-play units that haven’t had a second of time together. You want to get them some reps. We got a number of power plays to get them some work in the game.

I thought the guys moved the puck around well. There were some interesting nuances to how Montreal kills that are different than what you see from other opponents. They had to adjust to find their way through that. I thought they communicated well and took charge on the ice with that.

Is it more experimentation or is it something you are considering going forward?

Keefe: I wouldn’t experiment with anything I am not considering. I guess they go hand in hand.

What do you anticipate in tomorrow’s game against a Florida team that is in the thick of a playoff race that’s coming down to the wire?

Keefe: It is a team that is playing good hockey. They are desperate. It is significant in the standings not just for Florida but for the other teams they are competing with as well.

It is a game where we know we are going to get the absolute best from them. It is going to be a tough building to play in.

For all of those reasons, it is something that will get the team’s attention. That is good. We want to play in competitive games.