Sheldon Keefe addressed the media after his team’s dramatic 8-6 victory over the Carolina Hurricanes on Monday afternoon, improving the Leafs’ record to 20-14-4 at the Christmas break.
On the swings in the game:
Lots of emotions in the game, obviously. Our start, you’re feeling great, and then it gets away from you. You start to come back in the third and then you give it back again. Lots of emotions, but obviously, we really like how our team stayed with it and found a way. Everyone goes home happy.
On whether the final result outweighs the initial collapse:
It does. We need wins and we need points. Because of the way things go there, you give up the lead and the nature of some of the goals, you don’t feel great about them. You can’t forget about the good things we did. We scored seven plus an empty netter. We had a terrific start against a very good team that we knew was going to come. In fact, getting a lead like that is probably not the greatest thing for us in terms of our mindset playing against a team that is so hard to play against. But I think it is part of our growth here trying to figure things out.
That is partially the reason why I didn’t call a timeout in that second period — I just thought, “This is a good time for our team to kind of sort ourselves out here and see if we can.” Whether we did or not, I don’t really know in that second period. But we found a way. Our best players made big-time plays.
On the emotions he was feeling on the bench:
I do a pretty good job of keeping things inside. I have been through a lot of these types of games and a lot of different things as a coach at various levels. I try not to get too caught up in it. It was pretty fun to watch how quickly things changed and how our team responded to that.
On whether he is inclined to keep Matthews and Marner together:
I would say we are still kind of in the experiment stage. In fact, we talked about it after the second period whether we should switch back and decided not to. It worked out. But how it works out long term… It is not just necessarily on that how goes but how things underneath them go. We’ve just got to look at all of that.
On why he didn’t split them up:
?We just felt that there is potential there that something could spark itself and get going. We just thought there was mistakes made at key times that ended up in our net that weren’t necessarily a sign the lines weren’t working. I thought there were a number of good things happening through the game. We just had to get rid of the egregious mistake and how we were getting stalled like that in the neutral zone, and I thought we would have a chance.
On the potential he sees in that duo going forward:
It makes sense to me in a lot of ways just in terms of the one sees the ice and passes and the way that one finishes. But Mitch and Hyms were very successful with John there as well. We have to weigh that. It has a lot to do with just how things fall into place underneath them as well that we’ll have to look at. If I’ve shown anything in the early going here, it’s that I am not one to stick with anything for too long.
On the next-generation game and the kid who was dressed like him behind the bench:
I thought the game was outstanding. I thought the whole concept behind it is outstanding. If we didn’t make a next generation of fans here today, I am not sure we ever will. But I thought it was great. The kids on the bench were cool and the interviews before the game. I think it is awesome and it is nice to be a part of that.
On what he has seen through 15 games in terms of the buy-in from the players and what the team needs to work on:
What we have seen is that we have good players and we have good depth. We have the ability to set ourselves up to win games.
What do we have to do work at? Just dealing with playing with that lead. Playing with the lead is a big thing for us. Also, what you saw in the game today is just — we want to be a team that controls the puck and controls the play. But at times, you are going to face teams or situations where you need to change your decision making. You need to go quicker. You need to get things through the neutral zone fast. We’re feeling our way through that.
I had a sense that at some point, it was going to go bad for us. When it goes back and you are trying to play like that, it looks bad, like it did today. We still see lots of positives in there that have helped us along the way.
The other thing that I talked to our team about in the third period is that we haven’t played from behind very much here in quite a while. We were talking about kind of enjoying that. Enjoy playing from behind. Have fun with this. Let’s push back and see what we can do here. That is part of the growth as well.
On the decision to start Spezza next to Tavares and what he likes with Spezza next to Tavares to start periods:
The biggest thing — I had a sense here, frankly, with the next-generation game and the 2:00 p.m. start, that he would have his girls in the building. It was a good chance to give him a little moment there and it worked out for us.
I just thought that we were trying to restart ourselves in the third period so I kind of went back to that same start. When we are playing from behind, I like Jason’s ability to play up in the lineup and make a play at an important time. Obviously, he has a lot of experience and those are the types of things that can help us. Because of his ability, I don’t hesitate to give him an opportunity to start a game.
On what happened with Trevor Moore that forced him to miss the game:
He reported not feeling well — much like he did the other day. We thought everything was good, but he just did not feel like himself. We held him out for today and it will give him some time now over the break to just see how that progresses.