Sheldon Keefe addressed the media after his team’s 5-4 win over the Columbus Blue Jackets that improved the Leafs’ record to 18-7-2 on the season.
On the team’s performance:
We found ways to strike offensively, whether it was on the power play or on quick chances off the rush, but in terms of how we like to play and how we have played, I don’t think there was a lot to like about the game tonight in any of the periods. I am kind of happy, frankly, that the third period catches up to us because it probably should have.
It is not a good game for us, but it is a good result, obviously. We get back on the good side of it. It is a funny game to play, too, for our guys given we had such big leads at different times. It is all a part of it.
What it tells me, honestly: We are a tired group that needs time. Coming back from California and ending up out in Minnesota and Winnipeg, coming back late at four in the morning the next day… I feel like our team still needs to regroup itself. We are going to take a day off to do that tomorrow.
On Nick Ritchie scoring his first of the season:
Love it. It has been a long time coming. I said to him on the bench that I can’t take a lot of credit because I have been calling it for quite a while now that tonight was going to be the night, but I did feel quite strongly today was going to be the day for him.
He is very quietly playing well here. Coming into tonight, he had four points in his last five games. You could just see it coming. He has had some really good chances. I am thrilled for him, and the team is thrilled for him as well.
On when he began to call Ritchie’s first goal each night:
It has been a while. I started. I stopped. It was his birthday the other day, and we called it that day. In the coach’s room before the game… I thought it was going to be on the power play, though. I am glad it worked out the way it did. It is a good goal for him and a good goal for the team.
On Jason Spezza’s six-game suspension despite his sterling reputation around the league:
Everybody in this room and everybody in the game knows the character and integrity that Jason Spezza has and has played with his entire career. We do and always will support him. Obviously, he is going to weigh his options that he has in this process.
From our perspective, I think it is important that we press on here. I think that is all we can do. That’s what we did tonight. I liked that we came out, played, and got our win without him. That is what we need to continue to do; not make excuses or point fingers.
We will continue to press on and Jason will go through his process.
On the play of Alex Steeves and Kristians Rubins in their NHL debuts:
I thought those guys gave us good shifts. I liked their game. I am going to have to watch some of the details back. In terms of the confidence they both showed with the puck, I liked that.
For the first game for them especially, it is a strange situation. I guess you can look at it either way — maybe you have less time to think about it, or whatever — but there were no practices even with the team. In Steeves’ case, in particular, he wasn’t in our camp and didn’t know any of our guys. The guys don’t know him. He was just kind of dropped in here.
I thought [Steeves] played with confidence and his game got better throughout. He has some good details to his game. He is a smart guy. He plays with a good conscience out on the ice. I thought it was a good game for both of those guys.
On Auston Matthews’ scoring heater:
Not much surprises me anymore. I don’t think it should surprise anybody what he is capable of. That is the calibre of player that he is.
Obviously, the first goal is a pretty high-end play by Bunting to get that puck to him. That was great to see. He works to get to that spot to score and be there for that goal, and then he gets one down the wing.
Those are the kinds of pucks that haven’t gone in for him this season, so it was great to see that. When those kinds of plays start falling for him, it is obviously great. He is building great momentum here.
On Wayne Simmonds’ fit on the Matthews line:
I don’t know if I ended up juggling it at all. I was happy with how it was going. Obviously, we built the lead early, so there was a lot more reason to just continue managing the bench the way I was — kind of keeping guys rolling. I didn’t feel the need to necessarily change it.
Simmer has worked hard. He has played good hockey for us. It was a good chance tonight with how the game went to get him more consistent reps there and get more time. I thought he did a good job.
On whether Steeves and Rubins will stick around with the team:
We are going to take a day off tomorrow and regroup ourselves. There has been a lot going on around here between injuries and suspensions. We will take our time and see where the roster is at and where the injured guys are at. Obviously, some are going to be long term, but Dermott is making great progress here. We will have to see where he is at.
I know some of our guys are going to skate tomorrow — nobody who played tonight, but some of the guys like Dermott are going to skate. We will have to see where we are at and where the roster is at.
I have kind of lost track with it, to be honest. They just let me know who is eligible tonight and we put the lineup together. We will regroup, obviously. We have a very good team coming here on Thursday that we have to get ready for.
On Bunting’s contributions on the Matthews line:
He has been great. He is gaining more and more confidence in himself and in his role playing with Auston. The line hasn’t had Mitch here now for a few games. For him to make a play as he did is going to help his confidence all the more.
He himself — take the chemistry with Auston and playing on that line away — is just playing good hockey. He is playing with lots of urgency and lots of competitiveness. He keeps finding ways to generate offense and get points. We are feeling good about his game.