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

Ahead of Wednesday’s game against Winnipeg, Sheldon Keefe discussed the decision to sit Mark Giordano vs. the Jets, the latest on Joseph Woll’s recovery from a high-ankle sprain, Nick Robertson’s ability to jump in and provide a spark when he’s in the lineup, and the challenge ahead in the home-and-home against the Jets.

Morning Skate Lines – Jan. 24

With Mark Giordano facing a second consecutive healthy scratch, do you have a conversation with him about it or is he a veteran who knows the deal?

Keefe: We have talked when we have sat him out.

Part of it is Gio. Part of it is the rest factor when you are talking about the back-to-backs and the heavy schedule that we have had. This has been a really busy month for us just with the volume of games, the trips out west, and all of these types of things.

Similar to our forward group where we have some guys we want to get some looks — and Reaves got caught up in that — with Timmins, we want to get him going. Also, the right-shot thing is something that we have been fighting for a bit with the left-handed guys playing on their offside. I have wanted to give it a little more runway with the lefty-righty. We will give it another game today.

It has been a while since Timmins has played consistently. We just wanted to give that a look. In this case, it is more about Timmins than it is about Gio.

Is there an update on Joseph Woll?

Keefe: Not necessarily other than to say he is progressing very well. He is going to remain here and work through our bye week and All-Star break. He will remain on the ice. The plan or the hope is that once we return, he will be closer to or ready to join our practices.

I would say that his coming back to play after the All-Star break would not be imminent. It would more be progressing with the practices, testing it, and progressing from there. He is still quite a ways away.

How do you feel Nick Robertson has been handling the shifting in and out of the lineup? He still seems to find a way onto the scoresheet.

Keefe: I think he has handled it very well, which is important. I have talked to him about that. As a young guy, there are a couple of things.

You need to keep a good attitude and continue to work. You need to wait for your opportunities, and when your opportunity comes, you need to show that the time without playing hasn’t impacted your game and you haven’t lost your rhythm or your ability to come in and make an impact. Once that happens, especially when you are a player without waiver protection, you end up in the American league so you are playing and coming up when you are ready.

He has handled himself very well here. When we put him in, he has shown that he gives us a bit of a spark. It doesn’t seem to affect him. If anything, the time and the lessened workload in terms of games… The other night on the back-to-back, he come in and gives us a jolt of energy. That is what you want to see from a guy who is in and out of the lineup.

It was not just his goal. His overall game the other night, to me, warrants him getting another game tonight. Bertuzzi’s situation aside, he was going to remain in tonight and look to build on his game from the other day.

What is the biggest challenge generating offense against a team that hasn’t been giving up much?

Keefe: Just getting to their net, getting access to the net, and getting access to the zone. They also do a lot of really good things on offense, too. They are good with the puck and put pressure on you in your own zone.

Two teams are going to be fighting for possession and territory throughout the game and then trying to gain access to the net.

Special teams will, of course, be a big factor, too.

Historically, the matchups against the Jets have been intense. Why do you think that is the case for two rivals in separate conferences?

Keefe: It is a Canadian team. Whether it was our games in Alberta or Vancouver, it is just the Canadian factor. A lot of it is a little enhanced because of the time in the Canadian or North Division. That is all I can attribute it to.

What have you noticed about the Jets’ team structure compared to years past?

Keefe: I would just say there is a lot greater consistency and attention to it. That is all I would say.

When you look at the top defensive teams versus a lot of the rest of the league, it comes down to consistency in a lot of ways. From the start of the season until now, they have been very consistent in their attention to detail throughout their lineup — all four lines and all three pairs — so it has been very impressive.

How do you feel about the home-and-home sets?

Keefe: They are kind of rare, but I do think they are nice to have, especially this week with the way that it is leading up to a break. I think it is good.

As I referenced earlier, in the North Division, we got a lot of that, and I thought it was really good and fun. It brought some extra intrigue and interest from our perspective — or my perspective — at a time when we weren’t playing in front of fans. To have the full buildings added to everything is great.

We are looking forward to competing against one of the league’s best here. We have had a number of these types of contests recently with the top teams in the league and the Canadian factor. It requires a high level of play, competitiveness, detail, and consistency in our play. We need to bring that onto home ice.

I thought we did a pretty good job of it on the road. We got the split out of the four games on the road, but I thought we did a lot of good things throughout our time on the road. We need to be better on home ice, and certainly, this team tonight is going to challenge us.