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

After practice on Sunday, Sheldon Keefe discussed the emergency recall of Marlies defenseman Marshall Rifai, the status of his injured players, and a five-forward look on the power play.

Practice Lines – Feb. 18

Is there a further update on William Lagesson?

Keefe: No further update other than that he is day-to-day. He is ruled out for tomorrow, but everybody felt it made sense to keep him off the ice today along with the others.

What is Conor Timmins’ situation?

Keefe: It is improving. He was in the building today. I saw him working out for the first time that I had seen him in there. It looks like he is feeling better.

With the nature of the illness with mono, there is more to it than just how you feel. He has to go through some medical clearances before progressing to getting on the ice. He is not there yet.

As you plan out the road trip, is there a better idea of when you can use Joseph Woll again?

Keefe: In terms of when we will use Joseph, that is more about him continuing to develop himself and get ready. At this point, you are kind of just waiting for him to tell you where he is at and then continue to build him up.

The greatest challenge of all as we go out on this road trip is that we don’t project to have any practices this entire week. That makes it that much more challenging for a guy like him to get his reps and such.

Today’s practice was an important one for him. He just has to continue to work through it and get to the point where he feels comfortable and confident to be playing games.

In the meantime, it is good for us that Jones progressed throughout this week, got the game in this week, got through that, and then today was a scheduled day off. He didn’t take the day off the other day as the team did. He was preparing for last night’s start.

With Jones and Samsonov being healthy, it gives us a little extra time for Joseph to get ready.

It must be good to see John Tavares back skating with the group.

Keefe: The expectation was that he was going to give it a try today to see where it is at. I haven’t spoken with him directly or the medical team yet.

He, along with a host of others, will be a game-time decision for tomorrow, especially with it being a 12 p.m. game. There is less time to sort through things as there normally would on a game day.

At this point, quite honestly, I don’t have any real sense of what our lineup will look like tomorrow.

Why was Marshall Rifai the callup on defense?

Keefe: We liked the player in the time he spent with us through training camp and preseason. He has done a really good job with the Marlies. They have been really happy with his development as he has settled in here.

Also, he has some NHL attributes to him. He skates extremely well. He moves around the ice and closes space well. He is physical. He is a competitor. There are attributes there that you really like.

With the uncertainty with our defense right now, we needed an extra body. The organization felt that he was the guy who made sense.

Is it also the fact that he was able to turn his opportunity into an NHL deal last year?

Keefe: I think that has less to do with it. It is more that he has progressed.

He has great attributes that make him an NHL prospect and a guy who you want to develop. Through that, it is probably why he earned an NHL deal last year. This year, the reports are that he has progressed well and has become comfortable with who he is as a player while recognizing what he has to do.

We need a guy right now, and an opportunity has presented itself. He has done a good job of preparing himself for this call.

With the situation on defense, have you considered the five-forward approach on the power play?

Keefe: We have talked about it daily. It remains an option for us. We got some reps at it today in practice, but there is no Liljegren in practice today.

We like it. It is an intriguing option to manage the minutes of the defenders and also with Morgan out. At the same time, the power play was pretty darn good yesterday as it was. We will keep all of that in mind.

How has moving John Tavares out into the slot and further away from the net helped him on the power play?

Keefe: It has gotten him further away from the goalie, so it has allowed some of the tip goals that he has had further away from the net, which is far more dangerous than when you tip in close to the goaltender. A lot of the time, the closer you get to the net, the less likely you are to score because there are fewer angles for the puck to switch direction before it hits the goalie. That has helped him with some of those types of goals.

You are also much more of a shooting threat when you get a little more distance from the goaltender.

It has worked out well for him. It helped kind of get our power play going just before the break and coming out of it. The power play has gone really well since.

Last night, with John not there, it was still very good and very dangerous. That continues to be a strength of ours.

What is the challenge involved in preparing for an early afternoon start?

Keefe: You wake up and get right to it. There are some advantages to that.

In my experience with these types of games, you sort of dread them going in because it is such a radical change from what you are used to — especially for our team as we seem to play the fewest number of afternoon games in the NHL each year for TV and such.

When the game is over, you are pretty happy. You still have half a day to play with. Usually, game days kind of eat away at life. In this sense today, we can come in and get a good practice, which is sort of like tomorrow’s morning skate, and then you wake up and get right to it.

It is different for us for sure, but we probably have a mixed bag of guys who really like it and then others who are more routine and superstition-based and are not such a big fan. By the time the puck drops, I think it all equals out. You just go and play hockey.