After Monday’s practice, Sheldon Keefe discussed Ilya Samsonov’s shaky start to the season, Tyler Bertuzzi joining a line with John Tavares and William Nylander, and coaching against his former assistant Spencer Carbery tomorrow vs. the Capitals.
Practice Lines – Oct. 23
Lines at Leafs practice
Jarnkrok- Matthews – Marner
Bertuzzi – Tavares – Nylander
Knies – Kampf – Domi
Gregor – Holmberg – Reaves
Rielly – Brodie
McCabe – Liljegren
Giordano – Klingberg
Play at Capitals on Tuesday @TSN_Edge
— Mark Masters (@markhmasters) October 23, 2023
What is your sense of how Ilya Samsonov is handling how the season has started for him?
Keefe: I think he is handling it fine. Obviously, he is not happy with it, but he just continues to put in his work.
What can it do for the team and the goalies if there is healthy internal competition in the net?
Keefe: I think that is very healthy. There are lots of teams in that situation. I think it is proven more and more that teams require two goalies to not just push each other but share the workload. I fully expected that was going to be the case coming in. That is how it has worked out.
Obviously, you would like to have two goalies that are really thriving. That is the goal. But that is the idea when you have two: If one is slipping a little bit, you have another guy to go. You can work with the other and look to get both of their games rolling. If the other one starts to slip, you hope the other one is on the rise.
That is kind of the beauty of having two guys that we believe in. We hope that there are no true lulls in the goaltending.
Max Domi mentioned that Joe Woll’s demeanour reminded him of Carey Price with his even-keeled nature. What have you liked about Woll’s approach/demeanour?
Keefe: We learned a lot about Joe last year. He came in after not spending any time on the ice with us in training camp and preseason. He stepped in. Even the season prior, he got some starts and did a good job for us.
He doesn’t seem to be bothered by the moment or anything that comes with that position especially. He is just focused on the work. That is what has been nice from my perspective. I just step back and watch a lot of times. He has been really, really focused and committed to just doing the things that he needs to do and controlling what he can control, allowing his talent to take over from there.
It has been impressive to watch. It has probably happened a lot quicker than we had thought, but we always believed in him. Especially with the disruptions with the injuries that he has had, for him to be in this spot at this time — maybe a little quicker than we anticipated — is something we’re thrilled about. It makes us better.
What is the plan with Fraser Minten?
Keefe: We are just taking it a day at a time at this point. He is not going to play tomorrow. We will see how it goes from there.
For now, I think it is a good chance for him to step back and take a breath a little bit. He has played a lot of hockey. He has had a lot going on. We will take it a day at a time in terms of when he may get back in.
For now, it is just about soaking up the experience and staying ready.
With William Nylander and John Tavares producing each and every game so far, is the hope that they can get Tyler Bertuzzi going at five-on-five a little bit?
Keefe: Yes and no. It is part of it. Those guys have found a way to produce offensively for us. It is more wanting to get a look with Jarnkrok back with Matthews and Marner. In the last two games, I have started with Bert with Auston and then stepped away from it.
I think we will step away from that again to start with also to keep Knies and Domi together. That is sort of how it worked out. We have been through this over the years. With the calibre of the players we have at the top of our lineup, anybody can play with anybody there.
With so many new guys, we will keep tinkering with it until we find something that clicks as we did with Knies and Domi the other day. It seemed like that worked well and those guys enjoyed playing with one another, so you stay with that and sort of tackle the rest of it.
At the same time, the Gregor, Holmberg, and Reaves line was the best our fourth line has been in any of the games we have played. I know we didn’t use them a lot, but I was really happy with that group. You keep that together, and you keep working with the rest.
At what point in your time working with now-Capitals head coach Spencer Carbery did you think he could and should be an NHL head coach?
Keefe: I knew or at least felt that before he ever worked with me and our staff. I have known Spencer for a long time — before I ever worked with him here — and I followed his career and his path. I coached against his teams.
To that point, I was a little reluctant to even ask him if he would be an assistant. That is how much I respected him as a head coach. He had just come off being the coach of the year in the American league. He was well on his way. I was thrilled when he said he would join and would be interested in going down the path.
I really enjoyed working with him. I learned a lot from him. He brought a lot to our team and our staff. I am thrilled for him to get his opportunity.
Does the fact that some of your ideas have now spread to the Capitals organization through him give you a sense of pride knowing he has adopted a handful of things from your time together?
Keefe: Sure. I am not sure what you are referring to exactly, but all of us coaches are learning from one another, stealing things, adapting, adjusting, and growing along the way. Whether you work with a guy, see something, or have a conversation in the offseason, it is not a surprise. Some of it is through osmosis from just being around people.
Spencer has a lot of great ideas. He brought lots to us as well that we are continuing to do here.
Alex Ovechkin hasn’t scored yet this season. Do you view it as catching him at the right time, or are you worried that he is due?
Keefe: I usually don’t look at those types of things. I didn’t even know he hadn’t scored. Whether he has or hasn’t, he is a dangerous player that you are going to be aware of and need a game plan for. That wouldn’t change how we prepare for the game.