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

Ahead of Saturday’s game against the Ducks, Sheldon Keefe discussed the decision to start Martin Jones, Tyler Bertuzzi’s slow production, and the status of John Tavares’ injury.

Morning Skate Lines – Feb. 17

Why is it a good time to get Martin Jones back in the net?

Keefe: Just to kind of break it out and break up Sammy’s workload. When we leave today, we have a practice tomorrow, we play a 12 p.m. game in St. Louis, and then we have a back-to-back coming up.

I thought it was a good time to have a different goaltender in tonight just to break that workload. That way, Sammy would end up getting two of the next three after this. If he played tonight, with the quick turnaround for the 12 p.m. start, it starts to get to be too much from here.

It is less about tonight. It is more forecasting ahead, but also, it’s been two games for Samsonov already this week, and it is a busy stretch upcoming.

What is the benefit of not being a shoo-in for the playoffs? Could that make the team better coming out of the regular season? 

Keefe: Time will tell. We feel there are benefits to having to be hungry and stay with it. I don’t know that you are ever necessarily a shoo-in for the playoffs in the NHL save for maybe a few teams.  You are still in February here, and even in our seasons in the past, you still have to finish the job and get it done.

You knew coming into the season that in the division and conference, everybody is getting better around you and it is going to be more difficult. We haven’t been as consistent as we would like to be, so it has gotten tighter.

With where we are at as a team, I think it is a good thing. With each day, you have to be at your best and do what you can to get as many points as possible.

Do you set small goals like how many points you hope to have after a five-game period or a 10-game period?

Keefe: I don’t. I have never believed in that as a coach. When you do that, in my mind, you are already accepting that you are going to lose points. I believe we should win every single game that we play.

Every point that is lost is a disappointment. I really do believe that we should win every single game. That is my mindset. I believe that is the mindset we want to have as a team.

Do you see the offensive-zone penalty Tyler Bertuzzi took in the last game as an example of frustration setting in?

Keefe: I don’t see it as that at all. I think it is more circumstance. He has been caught with some of those in the past, but I don’t think it has anything to do with frustration.

It is a penalty you can’t take. Between that penalty and the Gregor penalty, you can’t take those at any time — they’re a retaliatory penalty and a penalty below the goal line in the offensive zone — but especially when you are protecting a lead.

It had been a pretty quiet third period, generally speaking, up until that Gregor penalty, and then they gained life and momentum. Those are things we have to do better, but I don’t see anything with frustration and Bert in that sense.

Have you considered giving Bertuzzi another look with the Matthews line?

Keefe: Yeah, we have talked about it for sure. When you look at it, for me, Bert not scoring has nothing to do with linemates or even power-play time. He has had a ton of scoring chances. It is not like he has had a lack of opportunities.

He has to just stay with it. In time, we can look it. We have talked about it at different times, but I think he pairs well with Tavares and Nylander. Those guys, at times, have been really, really good for us. The Matthews, Marner, and Knies line has gone well, too.

You have to be careful about tweaking too many things. I do think Bert has done a lot of good things, played well, and at times, really helped that line. Bert has made a lot of plays. He has created a lot of loose pucks on the forecheck for his linemates, which I think really pairs well with that group.

He had an excellent game in the game we played with no Tavares and Marner and he was with Domi. We tried to replicate that the other night and started that way. It didn’t go nearly as well, so we sort of switched it back after the first.

Bert is getting lots of chances. He is squeezing it and all of those kind of things, but to me, he is not playing poorly. That is why I am not too concerned about it in terms of moving him around. He is getting looks.

Is it affecting his confidence that it is not going in?

Keefe: For sure. That is part of it. He just has to stay with it and keep working. Changing habits, whether it is work habits or details in your game, is not going to help. You have to stay with it, trust it, maximize every single shot and rep in practice, and just kind of stay with it. As I said, this is not just a one-season thing. This goes back to last season for Bert in the regular season.

With all of this said, I still feel really strongly that this guy is going to be a very important player for us. I think this guy is fearless. He is a competitor. The higher the stakes get, he is going to rise to the occasion. He has done that his entire career — last year in Boston, in junior hockey, or in the American league. He has been a gamer when it really counts. I don’t doubt that for a second.

We’ll just continue to embrace the good things that he is doing and work with him to try to get these chances to fall, but there are a lot of good things in his game.

Is the John Tavares situation a worry, or is it something that will sort itself out?

Keefe: It is pretty minor. He is just unavailable today.

With Morgan Rielly being off the ice, was it just about giving him a bit of a break?

Keefe: It is. He didn’t skate yesterday, either, being out in New York. We wanted to keep him off today as well. We’ll have a discussion about tomorrow, but I believe, at this point, he will travel with us and can rejoin the group.

This is a bit of a different question, but as a former player, when did you seriously transition in your mind from being a player to being a coach?

Keefe: When you are a player, you feel like you are going to play forever. You are not thinking about that too much.

I had a couple of injuries that were really stacking up. My career was kind of going backward. I started to get involved in some junior hockey stuff in any of the spare time I had.

I jumped in with that and sort of got the bug. Being able to work with players, work with young players, and build a team — I was drawn to that side of it pretty quickly.

I wanted to get involved or stay involved in the game. I never thought it would be as early as it was. When you are a player, you feel somewhat invincible as a young player — as though you are going to play forever and the game is going always be there for you. It wasn’t the case for you.