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

Ahead of Thursday’s game against Washington, head coach Sheldon Keefe discussed Auston Matthews’ status (game-time decision), the illnesses and injuries piling up on the team this season, and Matthew Knies’ recent play.

Morning Skate Lines – Mar. 28

What is Auston Matthews’ status?

Keefe: Game-time decision. It is an illness for him. It is going to be based on how he feels throughout the day.

Illnesses have popped up a bunch throughout the season and seem to affect two or three guys at a time. Do the guys get flu shots? Are they encouraged to get flu shots?

Keefe: That is not my department, but they do make those available. In this case, with Auston, it is not a flu-related situation. That is different.

It certainly seems like something has come through our team here. It’s been two or three guys at a time in intervals throughout the season versus ripping through the room. You almost prefer [the latter] so it is just done with, but we have had a number of those situations you are referring to with two or three guys it’s wiped out at a time.

We are hoping we are past it. Auston’s situation is not like that. He has already been through that this season, but this is a little different. We are hopeful it is a little more manageable and he can be available tonight. We will see how the extra rest today benefits him.

Is there an update on Morgan Rielly?

Keefe: He remains day-to-day. We are hopeful he is going to bounce back here. The good thing is that once he gets through a day or two here, it is not going to be a lingering situation. It is not an injury that is going to be ongoing. Once he is past it, he is past it. We just need to give him some time.

We had some things that popped up after the game against New Jersey that made some guys not available for practice yesterday. There are a couple of situations that remain game-time decisions for us tonight. Guys tried it this morning.

These things are piling up on us. It is another red flag for taking practice off yesterday. It seems like we are losing one or two guys every game now to an injury. Of course, we don’t want to have that at this time of the year. If we have to prioritize rest to keep guys healthy, we are going to have to make those adjustments.

It has been piling up here. We are not through it right now.

What have you noticed about Matthew Knies’ game in the last few weeks?

Keefe: I’d say it has leveled off. His first period the other night was his best period in a good while. It looks to me like a young guy who is feeling the effects of the schedule. We have been talking about that internally and trying to manage it as best we can. It has been a little more difficult with the injury and illnesses.

Within each game, he has had good moments that haven’t necessarily shown up on the scoresheet. We need him moving his feet and being physical, coming up with loose pucks, being hard to play against, and kind of charging through the opponent.

We have seen pieces of it. The other night, in the first period, he and his line were dominant. He was a big driver of it.

Tampa Bay is on a heater and right on the Leafs‘ heels. Is that a wake-up call for the team at all?

Keefe: We are just trying to win our games and play well in our games. Tampa has been playing as good hockey as any team in the league. We can’t control that until we play them coming up.

In our case, we just have to get our game going and get as many points as we can. Wherever the chips fall, they will fall. We just have to do what we can to secure our playoff position and be ready.

What did you like about how the team played in its win against Washington last week?

Keefe: I thought we played hard, competed hard, and played through pressure. Washington came hard as well, and we played through that. I thought our best players were dominant. All of those things contributed to a good win.

What do you think the job Spencer Carbery has done as the Capitals stay in the fight for the playoffs?

Keefe: Yeah, it’s terrific.

Over the last couple of months, they have been excellent, but throughout the season, there have been a few key points where it looked like maybe it was going to go the wrong way. They have come back in a big way and sustained it. The power play, over the last 25 games, has been the best in the NHL. They have a lot of good things going for them.

I am thrilled for him. He’s done a terrific job. The players have responded after some personnel changes throughout the season. Younger players have gotten more of an opportunity. They are quicker, and there is a little more pop to what they are doing.

It’s been good to watch, but hopefully, it’s not so good tonight.

Do you stay in touch with Spencer Carbery fairly frequently?

Keefe: We chatted a bunch throughout the summer. Once the season gets going, you are busy. We both have young families, too. I keep to myself a lot, quite honestly, once the season gets going and deal with our own coaches.

I went and saw him when we were in Washington and chatted there a bit to catch up. Otherwise, you are kind of in your own rhythm and doing your own thing.

What is the key for your penalty kill against a dangerous Washington power play that includes Alex Ovechkin’s one-timer?

Keefe: Try to minimize the time we spend in our own zone. That is a big one. Get as many clears as we can and be clean coming out. Recognize our triggers and pressures.

Normally, the one-timer becomes most available when you have breakdowns in other places that force you to overreact. It then becomes available on the backside.

That is really it. We will try to limit those mistakes and breakdowns and stay out of the box as best we can. Whether it is a one-timer or not, their whole group is going right now. They are the best in the NHL in the past 25 games, and he is a huge part of their success or surge.

We are going to have to manage that by staying out of the box and then accepting the challenge and getting it done.