Sheldon Keefe addressed the media after his team’s 5-2 win over the Montreal Canadiens that improved the Leafs’ record 34-13-6.
On Auston Matthews’ 40 goals in 49 games and the magnitude of what we’re witnessing from him:
I think I have used a lot of my words on him. There has been so much to talk about all season long.
It is just so great to see him get rewarded offensively. He puts a lot of pressure on himself, or at least he knows that he has great responsibility to produce offensively. He delivers on it. He is delivering on it at such a great rate. It is nice to see him get that accomplishment here tonight.
He deserves it because of how much work he has put in. First of all, in the offseason to prepare for this, he has come in on a mission this season to really make a statement in all areas of his game. He has put in such good work defensively away from the puck that you want to see him reach the goals that he has for himself. And they’re lofty goals, but clearly, he keeps setting the bar even higher.
On what made it clear to him that Matthews was on a mission this season:
I look at actions. Right from day one of training camp, we had a really difficult training camp, and when a player of Auston’s calibre comes in and is prepared for it, goes out on the ice, is leading the charge in terms of work ethic, competitiveness, and attention to detail, it was really clear he was ready to bring his game to another level — and in turn, bring our team’s game to another level.
That is the calibre of player that he is and the calibre of person that he is. It is just tremendous to see him get rewarded for that here. He is not going to slow down. I have no doubts. He is just going to keep pushing himself and our team to just keep getting better here.
On what it’s like to coach a team with this amount of talent:
I think every team has its unique challenges and unique strengths. We have a lot of talent and a lot of great personalities on the team. I have to make it all work and I’ve got to put those guys in positions to succeed. I’ve got to challenge them and push them to really look to exceed their potential — not just reach their potential, but exceed what they or others might think their potential is.
Every time you are looking to coach a team, you take the talent every time. I am fortunate to be in the position that I am to coach these guys.
On where Pierre Engvall’s game stands at the moment:
He has found a way to score in both of the last two games he has played for us here. That is great to see. That helps his confidence, of course. But the reality is that’s not why he hasn’t been playing here of late. It was nothing to do with production.
We need Pierre to be really competitive, physical on the puck, win puck battles, be strong defensively, and do the little things to help our team win. Any production that comes from that would be great. I just think he has so much more to give to our team outside of any offensive production. Until he finds that level, he is going to find himself continuing to search to see when his next opportunity might come.
On the level of concern with the power play:
I think we had a real high level of concern for a real stretch of time there. Since we came off of our last road trip when we were out in Vancouver, scored a power-play goal in each game in Vancouver and in the two games in Winnipeg, I thought our power play, at times, looked as dangerous as it has been all season. We haven’t had a whole lot of opportunities since then.
In these two games against Montreal, we’ve had opportunities. It wasn’t very good yesterday, but I liked a lot about it today. We hit a post. We had a puck on the goal line. We had looks.
If you look at the large sample and you include the six weeks or so where it was really, really bad and didn’t produce anything for us, then yes, it is really struggling. If you look at the chances we produced here in the last five or six games, there are a lot of signs of life to it.
We can’t dwell on what has happened here in the past. We just have to focus on each game that comes ahead here. We want it to go over the line and we want greater production from it. The players want greater production. But we see lots of really positive signs in the process.
On the first power play we had earlier in the game, a lot of the power-play guys we use were really tired. After that, I thought our power play spent a ton of time in the offensive zone and moved the puck around pretty good.
We just have to stay with that. Elite power plays in the league score one out of every four. That is the best of the best. We have been right in that neighbourhood in the last little while. When we look at the chances we have generated, we feel like it is going to fall for us.