Sheldon Keefe addressed the media after his team’s 2-1 win over the New York Rangers that extended the Leafs’ winning streak to five games and improved the team’s’ record to 12-5-1 on the season.
On whether there were teaching moments to glean from the win:
There were teaching moments in every period, especially the first. We started the game really well. We were lights out early. We were moving the puck well. Defensively, we were really good. I don’t think we got a lot in terms of shots on goal in the first 10 minutes. The shots might have been 3-1 or something like that in the first 10 minutes.
We were in really good control there. I thought we got a little bit too comfortable. I thought we turned the puck over a lot in that back half of the first period. It kind of gave them some life.
There are teaching moments in the third, but it is not going to be perfect when you are protecting a lead. The goal we gave up — you don’t want to give that up, but they throw it in from the wall, it hits a skate, and it bounces into the slot. That stuff is going to happen.
That is why playing with just a one-goal lead as we have in recent games is dangerous territory. Usually, in this league, if you get to three, you are in a pretty good space. We weren’t able to get there tonight. It made it a little bit harder on ourselves than it perhaps should have been.
I thought we were calm throughout. I thought we did a good job. With a team with that level of skill that the Rangers have, you are going to have to rely on your goaltender to make some saves. I don’t think we gave up much today in terms of the odd-man rushes and such. Obviously, we didn’t like the Panarin breakaway in the third period. It came at the end of a dominant offensive-zone shift, we lost a puck, and they got in behind us.
That is perhaps a bit of a teaching point for us in terms of that balance. That line was pushing and trying to score, winning its shift really well, and then all of a sudden, it breaks open on us. That is really what New York is looking for in that spot.
We always find ways to teach out of each game. Overall, I thought it was another good effort from our team.
On the reason for the timeout in the third period:
I just felt that they had made it 2-1 and they were really pushing on the couple of shifts after that. There were a couple of sequences in a row where they were really pushing. Our team is more than comfortable now. We have played in these situations a lot. Just sitting there as a coach, they had just scored one, and now they are pressing on you a little bit. You are going to feel pretty terrible if they tie the game and you haven’t done anything.
I just talked to the team and said there was no reason to panic here. “Let’s just breathe, reset… We know how to play in these situations. Let’s just get back to it.”
On the strides the team has taken in team defense since the start of the season:
I just think we are far more connected in terms of the relationship between the forwards and the defensemen and how they are playing together. I also think that in general, our players are comfortable on the defensive side of the puck and aren’t forcing things on the offensive side.
A lot of guys, early in the season, are trying to jumpstart their season offensively and are looking to get going. That tends to change your mindset a little bit. As a team, it took us a little while to get to this place, but I think we are in a good spot now throughout our lineup in terms of how we need to play and be comfortable in these situations. We want to be able to extend our lead so it is not as tight, but in the long run, these types of games will serve us well.
On Wayne Simmonds responding to the scratch on Saturday night:
I thought Wayne was really good today. It was difficult to get that line on the ice today. The Rangers kept throwing their fourth line at times against our top players. I wasn’t necessarily willing to match that with our fourth line against their best people. That made it a little difficult to get them out there at times.
On the shifts they did get, I thought the line generated for us. There was the huge goal for us with Morgan’s goal. That line does a really good job between Simmonds winning a battle and getting it to the top, Bunting providing traffic, and Morgan’s initiative to put it to the net.
I don’t know how that puck didn’t go in there in the third period. Those guys were in good spots. They didn’t get a lot of ice time, but I think they made an impact in the game.
Wayne, overall, as we look at the body of work over the season, has done a good job. He has adjusted well to the fact that we have altered his role a little bit here early on as we look to get the likes of Ritchie, Bunting, and such a little extra power-play time. That has taken away something that has been a big part of Wayne’s career. He is adapting to that.
He has done a good job for us throughout. When you are in that situation, as I have talked to him about, at times, you are going to come out. It may have nothing to do with your game. It is just that we have a 13th forward here in Semyonov, and when you want to get him in and the forwards are remaining healthy, someone has to come out.
Spezza has come out in the past. Wayne is in a very similar situation here. We will continue to monitor that, but I do think Wayne has done a good job for us.
On Morgan Rielly’s two goals and play overall of late:
Really good. He is an offensive defenseman who looks to make plays. He is active offensively. It is nice to see the puck go in for him. That is important, but he has done a really good job for us defensively. Obviously, he has been a huge part of our power play, which has been rolling for us.
Obviously, our goaltending has been outstanding, but our special teams on both sides — penalty kill and power play — are a huge reason why we have been rolling as a team pretty well. Morgan is a huge part of that.
I just think his game has been very well-rounded here for quite some time. The defensive responsibilities that we have given him he has taken on. His gap control, defending at the blue line — we have been happy with that.
As I look back at last season’s playoff series, he was really, really good in that regard in terms of how he defended. He contributes so much to us offensively to help keep our players moving from breakout to the neutral zone to the offensive zone. He is so important to our team in that way.