Sheldon Keefe, Toronto Maple Leafs head coach
Sheldon Keefe, Toronto Maple Leafs head coach

Ahead of Saturday’s game against the Penguins, Sheldon Keefe discussed the return of Timothy Liljegren, Ryan Reaves’ injury prognosis, turning to Martin Jones over Ilya Samsonov in net vs. Pittsburgh, and Kyle Dubas’ return to Toronto.

Morning Skate Lines – Dec. 16

What do you expect from Timothy Liljegren coming back into the lineup even though he hasn’t been able to benefit from a lot of practice time?

Keefe: That has been a challenge in terms of getting him up to speed. We would’ve expected to have a practice for him yesterday, but we ultimately determined for the rest of the group that the day off was going to be more important.

It is going to be a bit of a challenge for him, but at the same time, even just watching the morning skate… It is a tough stretch of the schedule in terms of the volume of games that we played. It is the toughest stretch we’ve had all season. He looks like someone who is fresh, excited, and anxious to play.

To that end, he should help us, especially with his feet and the way that he can skate. It has been a challenge for us to get out of our zone. We expect him to help us there.

We will monitor his minutes and how he is doing in the game. Depending on Brodie’s status, it is going to influence the matchups and the things that Liljegren may face. But he is a good player for us and he was playing well when we lost him.

Is there an update on Ryan Reaves?

Keefe: We don’t have an exact timeline, but I would say it is not as bad as it appeared. In fact, I was talking to him yesterday and he was riding the bike. It is encouraging that way.

I think he is going to end up going on the IR, but it is not a long-term thing.

What have you liked about the way Martin Jones has played when called on?

Keefe: He’s just confident. That has come through experience. I don’t think he is rattled by anything that’s come his way.

His first appearance in net for us was coming in for an injured Joseph Woll in Ottawa. It didn’t faze him in that spot. He made some saves for us down the stretch. He played well for us the other night in New York when was in there.

He is confident and that gives the group confidence.

Did you consider going back to Ilya Samsonov?

Keefe: Yeah, we did. We talked about it and looked at how things rolled out for us in the next little bit. We thought it was a good chance to get Jones back in there.

Especially going back through it and looking at it, we didn’t give Sammy a chance to start well the other night. On the first two goals, he had no chance. We had full possession of the puck and turned it over. There is no structure in front of him. There is no chance to defend it and help him out.

Now, he is playing in a game where instead of getting comfortable and feeling good, there is that much more pressure on him. We are not scoring. One goes in off the back wall and off of him and in. Things are tough.

He has to find a way to make the next save, but the message for me is that whether it is forwards supporting our defense or the defense supporting the goalies, all five people need to help the goalie and do a better job in front of him. It gives everybody on the ice a chance at success.

It is the same on our breakouts. We can do different things. Forwards can help out to take some pressure off of our defense and ease the forecheck that we are facing a little bit to help our D and help our breakouts. This is where we need to do a better job.

Is it a little odd having Kyle Dubas back in the building as a member of the opposition given your shared history?

Keefe: Yeah, it is not odd to me. I’ll be honest. It is the first time that has entered my mind today.

We talked about this in Pittsburgh. You don’t coach against General Managers. We are diving into video. We are preparing to play against their team. All of that other stuff is what you guys are talking about. It is not on my mind.

The team is leading the conference in hits according to the league’s stats. What are your own numbers telling you?

Keefe: I think we’ve added some guys this season that have helped us in that regard, but I don’t put a lot of stock into that, quite frankly.

It is probably more reflective of the fact that we haven’t had the puck nearly as much this year as we have in past years. When you don’t have it as much, you are defending more, and those numbers tend to rise.

There was a time when I dug into those numbers a little bit more around the league to see how accurate or inaccurate they were. When you spend any sort of time seeing what they call a hit and what they don’t, you realize you probably shouldn’t be spending much time looking at it.

How would you describe the season Sidney Crosby is having at age 36?

Keefe: World-class player who, by all accounts, seems to have world-class habits and details in how he prepares and takes care of himself. It allows him to be good for a long time.

I have talked about that a bunch here with Tavares getting to 1,000 points. You talk about longevity, taking care of yourself, adapting, and all of these kinds of things. It certainly seems to be the case there.

If you are going to play at that level for such a long time,, you just can’t do it unless you have those types of habits away from the rink and away from the game. It seems that he has that.