Sheldon Keefe addressed the media after his team’s 6-0 win over the Ottawa Senators that improved the Leafs’ record to 21-8-2 on the season.
On the play of the defense:
I thought we did a good job early in the game of not giving them life and not giving them any real opportunities to go towards our net.
It was a funny game for so many reasons. It is the first game in a few weeks for both teams pretty much. No fans. Right out of the gate, we get two power plays in the first six minutes. When you haven’t played in three weeks, it is kind of a worst-case scenario. The players really haven’t had the time to get engaged in the game and get going, and then you are on the power play. You much prefer that to happen when the game is moving.
We weren’t able to cash in early there. On the penalty kill, you could see it the other way. They were not sharp or ready, and we capitalized on that. The way that it worked out with the shorthanded goals, we were happy to get the contributions from our defense.
Justin Holl scored such an important goal to get us going, and there was Brodie’s goal and contributions throughout. I thought we had a really good effort from our defense as a whole tonight — Dermott, Sandin, Biega, Rielly. Those guys did a really good job for us.
On the return of no fans in the building:
I was happy with the energy on our bench — the chatter and the guys talking to each other and pushing each other, whether it is on the positive side or reeling in at times when it maybe got away on us a little bit. Our guys were really engaged in the game. I was happy with that for sure.
In terms of not having the fans, it is different. It is an adjustment for sure. We have been through it. I don’t think it is as much of an adjustment for the group, but we miss the fans out here. They bring a lot to the game.
As much as I was happy with our players’ engagement in the game, I didn’t think the game itself had a whole lot of emotion or energy or competitiveness or physicality. That tends to ramp up when the fans are in the building. The game was void of that tonight.
At the same time, I thought we did a good job, once we got the lead, of not really letting Ottawa get rolling. That is a tough game for them today. They are playing shorthanded and dealing with their own Covid issues. It was important for us to get ahead in the game and not give them much opportunity to get going.
With the exception of the one sequence where Soupy was unbelievable around the goal line there to keep the puck out in the second period, we really didn’t give up a whole lot tonight. We didn’t give them many opportunities for life.
On Mikheyev’s confidence finishing on scoring opportunities:
It has been a long wait for a guy who has waited a long time to get into the lineup. He scored a big goal there. I don’t know how many shorthanded chances he had last season, but it was a lot. The puck didn’t fall for him. It is huge for him and huge for us. On the power play as well, we are trying to give him a chance to get involved and get his extra chances. For him to score two tonight is a good sign for him and his confidence.
With his speed and his skill set, he gets himself in really good positions to score goals. Last season, the puck just didn’t fall with much consistency for him. We are trying to help him with that.
Part of it is some tactical pieces and some technical pieces of getting to good spots. I really liked, on the penalty kill goal, he had the step on the defender and he used that to his advantage to change the angle a little bit and get a little bit more inside to create a better shot opportunity. Those types of things we have talked to him about.
The extra touches do go a long way. I think Pierre Engvall has done a good job for us on that weak side flank on the power play. We wanted to give Mikheyev that look before he got injured. Through preseason, I thought he did a really good job for us on the power play. We wanted to get him back going in that manner.
The shorthanded goal and power-play goal tonight will certainly serve the purpose of helping his confidence and having him feeling good. You put a guy like him with Kase and Kampf on that line, and there is a lot to like about it.
On what he appreciates about TJ Brodie’s game:
I think it is just the consistency and the poise that he plays with. He is even-keeled. He doesn’t get too high. He doesn’t get down on himself. He just goes out and plays.
I don’t have a whole lot of data or anything to back this up, but he is elite at playing against 2-on-1s when he is in bad spots and bailing the team out. He gets his stick on so many pucks. He breaks up that chance, and then not long after that, we go the other way and it is 1-0 for us.
Those are things that, in a game like tonight, you maybe gloss over a bit, but it is a big moment. Maybe it ends up being 1-0 one way, and it ends up the other way. If you give them life, all of a sudden, the game is different.
It is those types of players that are really great that you at times overlook with a guy like Brodie, but they are so important for our team. It is nice to see him, on the other side of it, be rewarded offensively tonight.
On scratching Nick Ritchie:
We obviously hope that we remain healthy here. It has been the first time all season on forward that I have had to make such a difficult decision. But it is certainly nice to have Mikheyev back in the mix and Marner back healthy.
You have to make difficult decisions at times. We really have had to do that throughout the season on defense. At times, you are sitting out guys that don’t necessarily deserve to sit. You can only play so many guys on defense.
At forward, it is the same thing. We had to make a decision today. For me, Nick Ritchie has played good hockey here. It seems like it has been forever since he played because he missed that game in Edmonton when he was sick. Obviously, our team hasn’t played for quite a while.
I have been really happy with how he has practiced. As we have come back now from the break and the pause, Nick Ritchie has been great in practice and has looked really good. In the morning skate today, he worked his ass off and looked really good.
It was a difficult decision. I think he has shown progress and his confidence is in a good spot. As I looked at it and we discussed it as a staff, we had to sit one guy today. As we look at the bigger sample over the course of the 30 games that we have played as a team, he was the guy that — if we had to pick one today — would come out.
I had that conversation with him. I was pretty honest about it. At the same time, I’ve had the talk with the defensemen. None of these guys that are sitting out are going to be sitting for very long. We need to keep everybody engaged and involved. There are going to be times where other players who played tonight are going to have to take a night off in order for other players to get in, keep the mix going, and get everybody playing.
The depth is a strength of ours. When healthy, we need to utilize it and keep everybody engaged. But we need those players. They are important parts of our team. Nick Ritchie is an important part of our team, too.
He has done nothing wrong to come out. You can only play so many guys. You have to make a decision. Tonight was his night.
On Jake Muzzin’s absence:
As I was talking about yesterday, both Covid and the break of not being on the ice, for Muzzin, it was something like 13 days where he didn’t skate. Those things combined affect everybody differently. It takes time to come back.
The medical team and our performance staff just didn’t feel like he was in a spot where it made sense to play him tonight. For that reason, we gave him the extra time. Biega has done a really good job. He stayed ready. He is hungry.
Rielly and Nylander felt comfortable playing. The medical and performance staff agreed. We put those guys in but gave Muzz extra time. He will be ready to go by Wednesday.