Sheldon Keefe addressed the media after his team’s 4-1 loss to the Carolina Hurricanes that dropped the Leafs’ record to 2-4-1 on the season.
On the team’s effort compared to Saturday night:
I thought our guys competed at a much higher level here today. Unfortunately, it is still not high enough. When you are playing against the Carolina Hurricanes, I think they set the standard, really, in the league in that regard. Despite the fact that we competed at a higher level today that was required in the game, it was still not to the level necessary to be able to compete with a team like that.
I liked the fight of our team. Obviously, we scored first. I thought we stuck with our game even though it was difficult. That is the hardest game we have played in this season by a wide margin in terms of the pressure, in terms of how difficult it was, and how little time you have with the puck. It is a different type of game than we have played this season.
I thought our guys fought all the way through it. We made mistakes that resulted in us getting scored on. They didn’t make those mistakes. At times, we gave too easy access to our net with guys getting behind our defense. We didn’t get the same level of access to their net.
On the new line combinations:
This is a tough game to really analyze that because of how difficult Carolina made it. I thought there were times, for sure… I thought Tavares and Mitch, especially, moved around pretty well and got some pucks off of the wall. Otherwise, a lot of the game was spent on the boards here tonight. There was not a whole lot of access to the middle of the ice.
It was tough to really assess that. It was a difficult game, but I thought the lines competed — each line competed. Again, it just shows that we have another level we need to get to. I thought we were better in a lot of areas tonight than we have been in the last couple of games, but it was still not to the level necessary to be able to compete with a team like that the way we need to.
On the confidence level of the team at the moment:
I can only speak for myself right now, I guess. My confidence gets a boost in the group today from myself, frankly. I don’t know if it shows up from where you guys are watching it from, but from ice level, that game is played at a much higher pace. We got a real sense of what a Stanley Cup-contending team looks and feels like. Our guys had to deal with that all the way through.
I think we leave here a better team. Despite the score, there were a lot of good things our team did here today, both in what our team did and the lessons that we’ll take away. I believe it will make us a better team moving ahead.
On the potential benefit of early adversity:
I think that is what I am getting at here — today especially. Playing on the road here in Carolina is a different animal. It is something that our team has really felt in quite a while. It requires a lot more from you, and it is eye-opening. We have talked about raising the standard as a team all the way through. I thought, through our camp, we did a number of things, but it hasn’t really been put to the test like it was here today.
We certainly failed in Pittsburgh in that area. Today is a good example of why we need to raise the standard. We need to get there, but again, I thought the spirit of the team was good. The energy on the bench was good. That is a difficult game — the type of game and type of team that can really get out of hand on you if you don’t stay in the fight. I thought we did.
We have to find ways to win more battles, get more loose pucks, play quicker, and probably most importantly, protect our net better and not let them get in behind us the way they did in the second period.
On the offensive-zone penalties the team has taken of late:
It hasn’t really been a point of conversation. I didn’t like the one, especially, that Pierre [Engvall] took tonight. We’ve had a couple of those where we were a step behind and kind of reached in with our stick or hand and got caught. That we don’t want to see. We want to check with our legs and with our sticks on the ice.
I didn’t think we had too many of those here today. I thought our penalty killing was good today. It gave us a chance. Carolina’s penalty killing was outstanding as well, but certainly, we don’t want to be taking those penalties.
On the continued struggles of the top power-play unit:
Again, I think you have to credit Carolina tonight. It is a tough game to assess the power play. With the quality of players that we have, we have to find a way to get through that. The pressure from Carolina, with their top penalty killers playing against our top guys, got the better of us tonight. The second unit maybe doesn’t face the same level of competition, but those guys have done a good job and came close tonight.
On whether the team is overthinking it at the moment offensively:
I think it is a natural tendency when you are struggling to score as we have. The results aren’t there for you. That is my challenge here as a coach: to not overthink things, not overcomplicate it. On the power play, we do want to direct more at the net and we do want to shoot it.
At the same time, Carolina didn’t allow us to get into those positions a whole lot tonight, especially for the first unit. That is the level we need to be able to get to in order to execute through that.
It is clearly not good enough — not where we need to be — and we will take this lesson today, get a practice day tomorrow, and head out to Chicago to finish this trip. Obviously, we need to finish it off on a positive.