Sheldon Keefe addressed the media after his team’s 5-1 win over the Edmonton Oilers that improved the Leafs’ record to 20-8-2 on the season.
On his team’s performance:
I thought our guys did a really good job of capitalizing on our chances and making good on them. I thought we played a really disciplined game defensively. At times, we defended more than we’d like. I thought we did a good job of doing the things we were looking to do before the game, which was to limit the space and speed of their best people.
It is a good win for our guys. I loved our response in the third period after giving up that goal and then getting it right back. We got the edge in special teams. Our goaltending was strong. We scored goals at five on five.
We defended a little bit too much and didn’t have the puck as much as we would like, but I thought other than the empty net that Draisaitl missed in the first period — which was a significant chance — we really didn’t give up much. And Jack was solid. Really good road effort by our team tonight.
On the team stepping up its defensive play after a tough few weeks in terms of goals against:
I think we defended well. We defended too much because we couldn’t break out of our zone. They kept getting pucks alive or keeping pucks alive and staying in our end. But I thought inside of that we defended well. On the shots that we did give up, Jack was solid.
I don’t think there was much there that was really egregious — no real rebounds or anything like that. Guys did a good job for him. As we have come to expect, Jack was real solid all throughout the game.
Our team, when it was time to defend, defended well. We defended with purpose. We scored timely and important goals at key times to build ourselves a lead. We responded well when we need to.
It is not a perfect game by any means, but it is a good effort by our team against a team on the other side that was pushing hard and looking for a win. We did a lot tonight to make sure we made it difficult for them.
On Auston Matthews hitting 20+ goals already for the sixth straight season:
He is in some pretty elite company in terms of his ability to score. Obviously, he is a pretty young player, but he is going to score lots throughout his career. He scores in different ways, as we have talked about a number of times through the season.
His first power-play goal there is a great effort by John, and Auston is in the right spot to capitalize on that. On the second one, Kase took one off the head there to keep the puck alive, but if you back that up a bit, Auston is in on the forecheck as F1, forces a turnover, and forces the puck up the wall. He ends up getting rewarded for it by getting the puck back to go downhill.
That is what you need to do at times: earn your chances. The puck comes back to him, and that shot that hasn’t gone in for him a lot this season — it was nice to see that one go in. He certainly made it count.
On whether Ondrej Kase is exceeding the expectations coming into the season:
I think he has exceeded it in some ways. You see that he is a very good player for us. The penalty killing part of it and the defensive utility was something we felt there was a great opportunity with because of how hard he plays and how hard he works. He is a smart player. We felt he could add a lot to our team in that area.
He hadn’t really been used in that role in terms of penalty killing and defensive play. We wanted to use him in that area. But he had scored in the league. He makes plays. He is a good, hard, honest player. He just takes what you give him and does what you ask him to do and doesn’t complain about it. He gives you everything he has.
You can’t have enough of those players. In Mitch Marner’s absence here and Jason Spezza’s absence, we have needed people to step up. He has been excellent.
On taking over first place in the NHL standings with the win:
We have come a long way from where we were, but there are a couple of things I would say to that.
A) There is a lot of hockey to be played.
B) We are not actually in first place. We have played a lot more games than most teams in the league.
We are not there yet. Let’s just continue to work.
On Morgan Rielly’s play this season:
Confident, reliable on both sides of the puck. I think he has more to offer us offensively, and it is on us as a team to just get him engaged in more and get more happening in the rush where he can get involved. But he has defended really well. He has grown in his role on the penalty kill and done a great job for us there.
I think that is a big part of his evolution. Today, they split up McDavid and Draisaitl, but Morgan is now in a position where a lot of nights he is getting the tough matchups. That is a big area of growth for his game to have that.
He is a huge driver of offense for us in terms of our defense. We don’t get a ton from our backend in terms of contribution offensively, but he is one guy who is a real driver for us and is really involved in our offensive chances. That has kind of always been his thing.
With the defensive ability he has added here both on the penalty kill and at five-on-five, he has come a long way and really embraced that. We are seeing a more complete version of Morgan.
On handing Rielly PK responsibilities this season:
He is an elite defenseman in the league. I just think elite defensemen should be contributing to your team in all facets. I just think that is a really important thing.
We need him to grow in that area. We also need to show confidence in him. That is something, with Dean coming in this season, that he felt really strongly about. I certainly supported that. I talked to Morgan about it a lot since the time that I have been here as coach. We have chatted just about growing in that area and taking that confidence to kill penalties to be able to take on tougher matchups at five-on-five.
His partnership with TJ Brodie has really helped in all of this. We can’t take away from the fact that Morgan has really committed himself to growing in all areas of his game.
On the play of Mikheyev and Seney in their first games of the season:
Mikheyev has a lot better to offer than he showed today. You kind of expected that. He is jumping on a moving bus here in terms of the season and how quickly things are moving. It has been a long time since he played a game.
I liked the fact that we were able to get him out there. You can see his speed makes us a much deeper team. It gives me the ability and confidence… in a third line, if they end up out there against McDavid and Draisaitl, I am not worried about that at all. That is really good and healthy for our bench.
Especially now that we have had to move Kase up, it took away from that line. We put Engvall back up there tonight. Having Mikheyev there gave us three lines we have a lot of confidence in. He is going to continue to get better. He is an important player for us.
In regards to Seney, I thought he played a good, hard, simple game. He had a great scoring chance there in the third period. He skated and put the puck in good spots. He got banged up there in the third period and got a pretty nasty cut on his finger. It looks like there is a bit of a fracture in there as well, so we will have to see how that settles. But I liked what he did.
Clifford now — that is two really strong games we have gotten from Kyle Clifford. And Simmer — huge goal for us from that line. Those guys are working together. Clifford and Simmer went hard to the net and got that goal for us. They just gave us good efforts all the way through.
Good, sound team effort from us tonight against a very dangerous team that was looking to break out. We didn’t give them those opportunities.
On the Covid situations in the league:
I have learned about a couple of things since our game started. Your attention is raised given what is going on around the league, but for us, we just have to continue to focus on what we can and control what we can.
We will stay here tonight. Our plan right now is to fly to Vancouver tomorrow. It will be an off day for our team tomorrow, but as the schedule is right now, we are going to practice for two days in a row leading into the weekend. Unless I am mistaken, it is the first time we have had two practice days in a row since training camp ended. That is significant for us as a team.
We have to recharge here over the next little bit and take advantage of those days.