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

After Monday’s practice, Sheldon Keefe discussed the status of Auston Matthews and TJ Brodie in their recovery from illness, the team’s offensive outbreak versus Columbus and Pittsburgh, and Matthew Knies’ transition to full-time NHL life this season.

Morning Skate Lines – Dec. 18

What is the status of Auston Matthews and TJ Brodie as they recover from illness?

Keefe: [Auston] had bounced back pretty quickly yesterday, so he was full go today.

Brodie has been a slower process. This morning, breakfast was his first real meal he has had in a couple of days. He felt good enough to get out there. We just didn’t want to stress him too much today. We will just monitor him, have him build himself up over the day, and see where he is at tomorrow.

If Brodie can’t play, what gives you the confidence to line up Simon Benoit with Morgan Rielly today?

Keefe: I don’t think it is what we would go with. At this point, we are preparing as though Brodie will be available, but with Benoit, it is more that we like him in whatever spot we have put him in. But that is not where he would be tomorrow if he is in.

Is there a way to bottle Saturday’s game and break it open whenever you need it?

Keefe: That would be great. That’s a fantasy.

What were you doing in your end vs. Pittsburgh that allowed you to facilitate the offense?

Keefe: We broke up plays, whether it is in the neutral zone, on our entry, or in d-zone. We transitioned really fast going the other way. Getting the puck back quickly, and then getting onto offense before our opponent can get themselves gathered on defense, is really what everybody in the league is trying to do.

We were incredibly fast the other night and incredibly sharp. We took advantage of our opportunities that way. It is not unlike how we started in New York last week. We got on top of our opponent, took advantage of our opportunities, and built a lead.

When you are feeling really good, those types of things tend to fuel your legs a little bit. We had a lot of jump early in the game. I can’t help but think it carried over with how we finished the Columbus game.

It is all good things. We had a day off yesterday, and it was our first practice day in almost two weeks here today. We are trying to leave here with a similar type of feeling of having good energy.

What do you see from Matthew Knies on a daily basis that has allowed him to transition pretty successfully into a full NHL season?

Keefe: His confidence is a big thing. We saw that with how he stepped right into the playoff setting and was able to make an impact. He is a confident guy who really believes in his ability to go out, make plays, and handle himself physically. I am not just talking about how he engaged in a fight the other night but more so the battles and the competitive nature of the league. That is what I think it is about.

Now, doing it every single day and doing it consistently is the greatest challenge for any young player coming in. It is something we have been mindful of. We have talked a lot about it internally. He is a guy who plays a fast, hard, and physical game. He is used to asserting himself physically, but that is in a college schdule.

Doing it in the NHL as a first-year pro is extra challenging. We are trying to be mindful of that. Compound that with the fact that we are asking him to play in the top six and take on tough matchups, and there is a lot on his plate.

Quite frankly, it is part of the reason why we didn’t play him coming off of his illness when he probably could have played in the Columbus game. He took the morning skate, he was feeling better, and unlike Brodie, he seemed to bounce back more like Matthews in terms of it just being the one day.

We just felt we should be mindful of what he is going through as a first-year player. It is a lot to ask of a guy who hadn’t eaten in a day, hadn’t slept, and was throwing up. You are asking him to play an NHL game the next day. Let’s just take a step back, let him gather himself, and perhaps that is part of why he came in so hot out of the gates and was playing at such a high level in that first period. It’s something a little bit of extra rest can do, and also, there is the hunger of missing an additional game, too. You want to get back to it.

The team has a strong record without Auston Matthews over the past few years. What does it say about your group?

Keefe: If we are just focusing on this year’s group, I think we have proven to be a very resilient group — and a deep group, too.

We have had a lot of injuries mainly on defense — we haven’t had too many disruptions on forward — but in each situation, whether on defense or in goal or with Auston being out… When we were in New York last week, Knies was out. Gregor played up the lineup. We have responded in those situations, and that is what good teams do.

We talked about it the other night. When you lose a player of the magnitude of Auston, it creates a lot of minutes and opportunity for other people. It also gets the team’s attention. We have to make sure it is not an issue for us. Everybody has to be a little bit better.

Fortunately for us, over the years, the team has reponded well in those situations.

How much do you like or see an advantage when playing an opponent twice in a pretty tight time frame as you will with the Rangers and Blue Jackets this week?

Keefe: I think it is good. I like that. You used to get that all the time in the American league — a back-to-back in the same weekend or you see them again the next week. You see them with such regularity that it adds a little extra to it.

The preparation is that much easier. It is a nice thing to have in the NHL — you have 31 teams to prepare for — where it is a little bit of a shorter turnaround to get prepped.

And then you have some adjustments to make from your previous time out. There were some things we talked about today that we felt we didn’t do very well when we were in New York. It gives us time to make those adjustments and be that much more ready for [Tuesday].