Sheldon Keefe addressed the media after his team’s 5-3 win over the Buffalo Sabres on Tuesday night, improving the Leafs’ record to 17-14-4 on the season.
On the team’s performance:
I really liked our start to the game. Once again, we found a way to play with the lead. Obviously, that is an area we want to be good at. We want to set ourselves up to win games.
Certainly, the focus once again will be on the third period — that is when the puck goes in the net — but to me, it gets away on us again in the second period. It doesn’t end up in our net necessarily, and we get two elite plays by Auston that gives us some goals and give us a cushion there, but I didn’t like a lot of our game in the second period in terms of how we took care of the puck and forced the issue a little bit. It just catches up to us a little bit in the third period there.
At the same time, I think it is a little bit louder in the third because the puck ends up in the net — the penalty kill goal and then Eichel gets in behind us there. The third goal is the one that stands out to me as a real negative for us — a lot of sloppy play there. That was more of what I thought we saw in the second period.
On where he wants to see the team improve when in the lead:
That is what we are talking about — we are talking about that a lot. We have been able to play with the lead a lot here. In my time I’ve been here, we’ve been able to play with the lead a lot and put ourselves in these positions a lot. In that, we are showing where the next phase is for us as a team. I think the team played from behind a lot early in the season, and now we’re playing with the lead a lot. There are a lot of areas there where we have to be a lot more purposeful and a lot more intelligent with what we do with the puck. I think we have real potential to really control the game in those periods of time, but we are not there yet.
On Matthews and Nylander’s performances:
I thought they were good. I didn’t like, of course, the third goal — couldn’t get the puck out and then they get tired. When you get tired, you are going to have defensive breakdowns. I thought they had the puck a lot more today — a lot more time in the offensive zone. [Matthews’] goals were elite and that is what you come to expect when he has those opportunities like that to finish. He made no mistake and that really puts us in position to win the game. He did his job.
On the team’s ability to win while they’re still adjusting to the changes under the new coach:
I think it just speaks to the potential of the team. We are still nowhere near what I think we can look like and what we are capable of, but we’re doing a lot of good things. The penalty kill lets one in here today, but we get a huge kill late in the game. Special teams have been better there. The power play had some looks and had some chances. We think we can get a little bit better there as well. Playing with the lead, getting the lead — a lot of good positives things that we have seen, and yet I still think there is a long way for the team to go and continue to grow.
On the offensive production from the fourth line through Timashov and Gauthier:
It is nice to have some competition for those spots. We are moving guys in and out and guys are hungry coming back in. Some of that is at play. Some of it is you just get a little bit fortunate — the puck lands on a guy’s stick and he makes good on it. I’ve said before that I think the game works in funny ways. Those opportunities come available for guys that maybe played 20 games before that and the puck didn’t come to him in those spots. The puck just happens to fall to him in those spots. That was good.
More importantly, I thought those guys have been giving us really good shifts. The goals are great, of course, but they are giving us good shifts that you expect from the fourth line.
On what happened with Trevor Moore looking ready to return and then not:
We spoke this morning and we had full expectation he was going to play. In terms of the shoulder, everything was good and fine. He just raised some concerns to the training staff after we had spoken about a hit he had taken the day before in practice. He wasn’t quite feeling himself. He didn’t say anything and was giving it some time for the day, I guess, and wasn’t quite feeling himself. He raised some concerns and he went through the concussion testing with the training staff and it came away [clear]. For his benefit, they held him out here for precaution just to allow a little more time to pass and make sure he is good.
It looks positive, but we’ll have to see how it is in the next couple of days. In terms of his initial injury, that is cleared and good to go.