Ahead of Wednesday’s game against Dallas, Sheldon Keefe discussed the slow secondary scoring of late, the team’s inconsistency at home (11-10-5) compared to the road (14-5-6), and the challenge created by David Kampf and Calle Jarnkrok’s absences.
When you have a bunch of players going through offensive dry spells, what can you do as a coach to help them through it?
Keefe: Just showing them the opportunities they are getting and the chances that are there. You just have to stay with it. There is nothing else you can do.
We have had no issues generating scoring chances. For it to go over the line, you just have to stay with it, be persistent, shoot the puck, be assertive, and have the guys away from the puck disrupt the goaltender.
At the same time, recognize that while you are going through it, you have to give up less if you want to win games. That is the balance you have to strike there. Generating the scoring chances hasn’t been a problem for us. We just have to stay with it.
As the game starts to change down the final stretch, what do you want your team focused on in the final 30 or so games?
Keefe: Consistency. That is really the name of the game for us. If you look at the season as a whole, we have been inconsistent with our play and even within games. We’ve played well enough to win and we’ve been good in games — and to play well enough to win involves doing a lot of good things or you are not even in the game — but it is just doing it consistently. It is the difference between elite teams and everybody else in the league. It is what we are seeking.
We have gone through — yesterday and this morning — the different pieces where we look disconnected and disorganized. That is what opens the door for the organization. But then we show a number of clips where it’s really good and looks the way it is supposed to. We were controlling the game and in the game.
We have done that a lot of late — we have been in every game, and if not leading, it is tied or low-scoring — and we have done a good job of managing that. The Winnipeg game is a really good indication of what we can do closing the game. It is just the consistency piece for me. It is what we have been talking a lot about — staying with it.
How can the group stay more connected more consistently?
Keefe: There is a mental component to it. There is a recognition and an awareness, whether it is late in the game the other night, or whether it is late in the power play such as the play when the power play guys who were out there and Liljegren came onto the ice late as the only defenseman. There are all of those pieces. As coaches, we have a role to play in helping them with that as well.
What was the thought process behind moving Nick Robertson over to the right side?
Keefe: Someone had to do it, and Gregor has been over there a lot. I think Gregor has been better on the left side. With Robertson’s skill set and the way he can shoot the puck, getting his stick to the inside coming off of entries and coming off the walls can help him.
If there is one true advantage to playing your offside, it is on the breakout. When a lot of pucks come up the boards against the pinch, your stick is on the wall and you can protect it. For Robertson or any young player, the wall play is a great challenge at the NHL level. That is an area where it could perhaps help him.
It is more about weighing the pros and cons of each guy when you are down on the right wing as we are without Calle Jarnkrok.
What is the challenge David Kampf’s absence entails in terms of defensive-zone faceoffs?
Keefe: It is less about the faceoffs for me as it is having another presence you can put on the ice in any situation.
I thought we really felt it throughout the game the other night, especially when we made the game 2-2. It was getting down to the final minutes, and when you lose guys like Kampf and Jarnkrok, it is more of a challenge. We didn’t have Jarnkrok in Winnipeg but did have Kampf, and I thought it was a lot more manageable.
On the penalty kill, I thought the guys did a good job there, whether it was Willy stepping up and taking the initial faceoff or the other guys who filled in.
We need to get more from our bottom guys. This is a Stars group — more than the Islanders the other day — that is going to use four lines and involve everyone. There are not a lot of easy shifts against this team. We are going to need all of our guys to be good throughout the lineup.
Why do you think the team has had more success on the road than at home this season?
Keefe: It is hard to figure. I don’t know if there is anything specific to point at that shows the difference at home vs. away other than the obvious pieces. When you are on the road, you are in a different routine with different schedules. You are sleeping in hotels vs. sleeping at home. You are together as a group.
I don’t know if you can point to one thing. Even though we have gotten some better results on the road, we have played some good games without question. Inconsistencies are there in both venues whether home or away.
The old cliche part of it is that perhaps you focus a little bit more on just playing a good, hard road game and simplifying things, but at home, perhaps you are trying to do a little more — trying to show well, get leads, and play ahead. There is an extra bit of patience that is required to play on the road that is maybe a little harder to get at home.
We have talked about some of those sorts of things, but I don’t know… It’s the kind of thing that can flip at any time, I believe.