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

Ahead of Thursday’s game against Arizona, Sheldon Keefe discussed the incident against Vegas that led to his game misconduct and a 25k fine, Joseph Woll’s return to the crease, carrying three goalies, re-uniting Morgan Rielly-TJ Brodie for the time being, and the upcoming trade deadline.

What is the status of Timothy Liljegren?

Keefe: He is day-to-day. We thought there was a chance that he would come in today and be feeling good, but he was just not there. He is not where he wants to be or needs to be. He will continue to be unavailable for now.

What is the decision in net for tonight?

Keefe: Joseph is preparing to play. He looks good and feels good. We will give him every minute that we can. He will get through the day. The plan is for him to play and be activated tonight before the game.

That is the plan, but with any player coming off of the IR, you give him as much time as possible to make sure they are good. But that is the plan.

How exciting is it to have him back?

Keefe: It feels great. There is how he played (before the injury), and you also saw how hard he worked to get himself ready, especially in the last three weeks or so. He has been right there, and there is just one last little hurdle for him to get over.

You want to get him back in the net. He is an important guy for our team.

How important is it that Woll is not returning to be the savior thanks to the recent results and strong goaltending?

Keefe: I do think that is important, especially for a young guy like Woll. He has to focus on himself and his own game. It is not just tonight but the lead-up to tonight and getting over that last little bit. The team has been going really well. The goaltenders have done a good job for us.

He has been really been able to make it about him and making sure he is ready. Going down and getting some time in with the Marlies checked the last box knowing he could get through the game and the positions that he needed to.

We got him a couple of extra skates back up here to make sure that everything checks out. Here we are.

Is the last step for any player coming off a long injury layoff trusting the fact that everything is okay with the affected area and having confidence in it?

Keefe: I do think that is important, especially with the nature of the injury. Every injury is different, but some sit there in your mind. At his position, he got hurt with a certain movement that he has to repeat countless times in a game.

That is probably the biggest hurdle for him to get over. That is what puts the most stress on the injury, and then there is the mental side of making sure you are able to get through it at game speed. That has been it for him.

He is excited to go. We are excited to have him back.

Do you know if the plan is to carry three goalies on the roster? What kind of luxury does that provide?

Keefe: That is the plan.

It is part of it for sure, but at the same time, what is really important when you have three guys is that you don’t really have three guys. You have to focus on two. Otherwise, you are halfway with three guys and you are then affecting three guys.

Jonesy’s job is to stay ready. We will continue to work him in when we can, but we don’t want to be too disruptive to Samsonov or Woll. We will manage rest and things accordingly. Tonight, as an example, Samsonov will back up.

We just want to keep them in the regular routine that they would normally be in, but looking ahead, sometimes the schedule is going to heat up with back-to-backs. I am sure it will be good for us. The most important thing is to have three quality goaltenders who have all won games and have carried our team through tough spots at different times in the season.

To have all three here and available is important. We have to continue to manage and keep them ready, but I do think it is important for us to clearly identify two, which we have in Samsonov and Woll.

Jones is a good pro and has been all season long. He is going to do all he can to keep the right frame of mind, stay sharp, stay ready, and get his work in. Curtis Sanford will help manage all of that.

Where do you stand on how Matthew Knies has handled the top assignments on the top line throughout the season as he acclimates to the league as a youngster?

Keefe: I think he has done a good job of it and has gotten better and better. As the season goes along, you get faced with different challenges and learning opportunities for a young player. I think he has gotten better.

The more games and more challenges he faces, he will be able to work his way through. As I have said, young players — especially those who bypass the American Hockey League — are learning on the fly. You are learning in the league. It is a hard thing to do, especially when you look at the workload and assignments he has. The matchups — whether it is the forward or defensemen he faces — as a result of playing on that line are tough. There are added layers there for sure.

It is important for us to keep coaching him along the way as the situations arise. We also have to be realistic and manage his workload accordingly. Despite playing a lot of time there, there is a big discrepancy still between his minutes and the others. That is all part of really helping him to not get overwhelmed by any of the situations that come up with the matchups and the demands of the league.

What is your philosophy when it comes to speaking to the officials during the game and also letting your team know that you are in the fight with them but also trying to lobby for the next call?

Keefe: I think there is a fine line being a voice for the players at different times so that they don’t have to be; they can focus on playing. All I’ll say is that my job as a coach is to really be focused on the next moment and what comes next.

I don’t feel like I lost control or anything the other night, but I am not focused on the right thing. My job is to be focused on the right thing. I’ll be better in that area. It is a chance for me to grow and reflect on it. That is all I will say. We can move on.

What was the thought process behind going back to TJ Brodie and Morgan Rielly together tonight? How can they get back to what they were?

Keefe: You talk through all of the different options that we have. We have six lefties again tonight. We are in a jam right now with Liljegren being out and we can put Timmins in that category as a right shot. Having righties lets things fall into place.

When you have the lefties, it jams things up. You look at Brodie’s situation. To me, he played better on the left side of late, but we are in a jam right now. We talked through all of the different options. When you are in a jam like this, you have to fall on what has worked for you over time.

[Rielly-Brodie] is not going the best right now, but it has worked well for us. Benoit-McCabe has worked really well for us. Splitting that up, I don’t know if it really helps our cause. Brodie has been better on the left, but he has played more on the right than anybody on our team. When we have no righties in a jam like this, we have to trust and give these guys a chance to go out and play.

That is really it. We will monitor it as we go. To help ourselves through this, the guys have to clear their heads, go out, play, and trust themselves. Lagesson has done a good job on the right side for us. McCabe has done a good job on the right side for us. Brodie has done a better job on his offside than anybody in the entire league over the course of his career.

At a time when we are in a jam, I think it is important that we trust the guys to go out and get us through this. At the same time, as always, when we have players out of our lineup, the forwards have to really help. We just have to get connected.

We have done a good job of it. We have had two pairs of all lefties for quite some time now. We managed it just fine. Let’s not make it a bigger deal than we need to.

With the trade deadline just around the corner, are the conversations between you and Treliving ramping up now regarding the defense mix?

Keefe: Tre and I talk every single day. We have had those conversations all throughout the season. We are on the same page there.

The deadline is coming, so those discussions are ramping up both internally and with him on the phones and such. He is doing all he can to try to help our team while recognizing, at the same time, that the team has played really well and done a good job. We have seen different people step up at different times. We need to continue to do that.

As a coach, my job is to maximize the group that we have. We have more than enough to be able to find ourselves through these different situations.