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

After Tuesday’s practice, Sheldon Keefe discussed the latest updates on Ilya Samsonov and Timothy Liljegren, John Tavares nearing the 1,000-point milestone, and the charitable contributions of Auston Matthews within the Toronto community.

Practice Lines – Dec. 5

Is there an update on Ilya Samsonov, John Klingberg, and Timothy Liljegren?

Keefe: Sammy was feeling better today in order to get on the ice. This illness has beat him up pretty good, so he wasn’t going to work through the whole day. The hope is that we can build him up one day at a time now.

Liljegren is progressing very well. There is no timeline at this point that I have been made aware of. We just continue to ramp him up a day at a time. He has had no setbacks. He is feeling good and strong every day.

I have nothing for you on Klingberg at this point.

Is the hope that Samsonov will be available for Thursday?

Keefe: That is the hope, yeah. We have to build him up and see how he gets through the day tomorrow.

Is there a concern about how long of a layoff it’s been since Samsonov last played?

Keefe: I am not concerned about it because of how Joseph has played, but also, Sammy has put in good work with Curtis Sanford on his game. My concern at this point is less that he hasn’t played and more that he hasn’t been on the ice because of the illness that has come up and beaten him up pretty good. We have to be smart with how we build him back up to the point where he is ready to play.

How do you think the team has handled the string of one-goal games?

Keefe: From an energy perspective, I think we have handled it well. You don’t love that you haven’t been able to close it out and not get to extra time, but you do like that you’ve been able to keep it close, not let it get away from you, and not let the other team take the lead. We saw the other night how we got behind but found a way to tie the game. We stayed with it to the end. It depends on how you want to look at the situation.

For us, we will continue to work on the process, find ways to close games out, build leads, and keep leads. There are still some positives inside of what we have done here to make sure we are hanging around in every game and making ourselves hard to beat.

To that end, there has been progress there. It doesn’t always show up right away. It is not a good trend or quality to not be able to close it out in regulation — we recognize that — but there are still some positives inside of that. We think our game is growing. We just want to make sure we are staying with it to get it to go our way.

At different times over the years, you’ve talked about how loud or quiet the bench has been. Has there been anyone who has surprised you by how vocal they have been?

Keefe: At different times, all of our guys have done that. Sometimes it is vocal and you can hear it because they are talking to the whole bench or a big group of the team, but I have just noticed the conversations happening among linemates on the bench. They are not the rah-rah type of thing, but it’s guys communicating and talking about what they want to accomplish on the next shift or one or two things to focus on for the next shift.

I have seen our guys kind of pull together and encourage one another to stay positive and to stay with it in these tight games. I think that is really important. That has improved as we have gone through here.

In the early going, there was a pretty obvious sense that there were a lot of new people here. It doesn’t seem to be the case anymore. It feels pretty natural. The group is comfortable with itself, which I am sure is a product of the number of games that we have played now but also the time we have spent away.

There was the lengthy road trip that we had earlier in the season and then Sweden. Some of the time that we have had with the light schedule allows the guys to spend time together away from the game with their families together. All of that stuff is helping the group.

John Tavares is coming up on his 1,000th point. What does it say about his tenacity and longevity to be able to reach that milestone?

Keefe: You used some great adjectives there. The one I didn’t hear was consistency, too. He has been a consistent scorer in this league. Consistency defines him because it is also the consistency in how he goes about his business every day and takes care of himself.

He has made adjustments along the way, but he continues to be very diligent in his preparation, maintenance, and development. He seeks to maximize every single day.

It is a tremendous milestone that he is working toward and certainly one that is well-earned and deserved. We use those terms because as great of a player and talented of a player as he is, it is really hard to get to that type of accomplishment. You have to really work at your game.

John epitomizes everything it means to be a professional.

Has Tavares been an example for Nylander, Matthews, and Marner with his work ethic outside of the rink?

Keefe: Absolutely. It’s the way that he prepares. He is getting older now. He doesn’t let it slip at all. In fact, over the last couple of seasons, in my time with him, I’ve watched John recognize that he is getting older and that he has to continue to work at his game.  He is putting even more time in and is being more deliberate about his game, his skating, and his body off the ice.

It is quite impressive to watch. I think it really sets the tone for all of our players, certainly, but even those who play as much as he does and are top players. If you expect that you are just going to be able to maintain your level on your abilities alone, it is likely not going to cut it. You have to continue to work on your game.

When you look around the league, those who do it at such a high level for a long period of time are absolutely committed and are professional about it every single day, in-season or off-season.

With Auston Matthews’ involvement in SickKids, what is the value of having players involved in charity commitment around the city?

Keefe: There is tremendous value in it. It is important to recognize the impact that you can have. Auston certainly does that.

There is the impact you can have and there is also keeping you grounded and recognizing the difficulties that others are going through. To be able to contribute, help, and give your time — to put smiles on people’s faces, or to raise money, or whatever it might be — is tremendous. In a market like this, there are so many different causes, and the players only have so much time to give.

For someone like Auston, I see not just the public things like the Sick Kids and the appearances he makes but also so many things he does behind the scenes. I know he is making visits to hospitals with no cameras around and touching base with kids. He is constantly recording messages and sending out messages to people, wishing them well.

It is not just him but throughout our team. There are a number of things behind the scenes that I am privy to that our players and organization do. Those are things we should be doing. We are proud to see it happening. You want to do what you can.