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

Ahead of Tuesday’s game against the Rangers, Sheldon Keefe discussed John Tavares’ 1,000-point ceremony, the firing of DJ Smith in Ottawa, and the challenge against one of the top teams in the Eastern Conference.

Morning Skate Notes – Dec. 19

Are you looking forward to John Tavares getting his moment in the sun with the 1,000-point ceremony, particularly knowing how quietly he goes about his business day to day?

Keefe: He does a lot of his best work behind the scenes. At times, you take it for granted. When you have a milestone like this with getting to 1,000 points, it is a chance to really appreciate him for the career that he has had.

I think he has a lot of great hockey ahead here still. It is a credit to the consistency that he has had throughout his career, the consistency of his habits away from the rink, and how he adapts his training and his practices. I believe it allows him to have longevity with the consistency of his production.

How difficult was it to celebrate in the moment when you are immediately going to OT and it is a hostile crowd?

Keefe: It was tough, but actually, it was also easy at the same time because it is such a big goal. We had been talking a little bit behind the scenes about leaving the bench or not leaving the bench. It was going to be somewhat dependent on what was going on in the game and whether it felt right in the moment.

When it happened, there were a few players who kind of looked over their shoulders. It felt right, so get out there. In that sense, it was kind of easy. There wasn’t a lot to think about. It was a huge goal. There was not much time left. It felt right, and in that building all the more so.

What are your thoughts on DJ Smith losing his job yesterday? In general, with Dean Evason and Craig Berube, it feels like we are in the cycle of coaching changes with trades being so difficult to make in the first couple of months.

Keefe: It is a reality of our business, unfortunately. It is the way it goes, unfortunately.

Specific to DJ, I think he is a great coach — and a great person, probably more importantly. He is someone I have enjoyed competing against at the junior level, getting to know him during his time in the organization, and down the road, [coaching against him] in Ottawa there. To me, I have seen him do a really good job, and they’re not always the most ideal circumstances.

It was tough news yesterday. As you mentioned, he is not the only one who has been let go this season. It is tough. I am sure, like the others, are quality coaches who will land on their feet. There are opportunities for others now.

What kind of challenge do the Rangers present playing them twice in the span of a week?

Keefe: The greatest challenge is that we played them last week and we had a good night in their building. They’re a great team that has had a good season and has been a good team in the league for a number of years for good reason. You would expect them to bounce back tonight. They have bounced back and played very well since we played them. We will expect them to be at their best.

In terms of the challenges, they have great goaltending. Their special teams, when you combine their power play and penalty kill, are among the best in the league. They have some very dangerous players that dominate play when they are out there.

We have lots to manage. Our hope would be that we can get another good start tonight. We had a good start the other day (vs. Pittsburgh). We had a good start in New York. We will try to take a hold on the game early.

What makes the Rangers’ power play so dangerous?

Keefe: They have different elements from shooters and passers to net-front presence. They have great intelligence with how they go about it.

Adam Fox seems to make the right decisions at the right time and execute the plays. It doesn’t really stop from there.

If you make one mistake with your stick positioning or you fail to get a puck cleared, they make you pay for it. They spend as much time as anyone in the league in the actual zone. Once they get the puck, it is tough to get it back from them.

Faceoffs are important. Clears and exits are important, and how you manage your blue line coming back into the zone. Those are the types of things that you focus on when you are playing against them. If you are defending too much in your zone, you are asking for trouble.