Sheldon Keefe addressed the media after his team’s 4-2 win over the Edmonton Oilers that improved the Leafs’ record to 22-8-2 on the season.
On the team overcoming a few defensive hiccups in the first period and shutting the Oilers down the rest of the way:
Keefe: I was happy we found our way back there. It was a huge goal for us at the end of the first period.
I didn’t like that segment of the period in the first. We got the lead, and we had quite a bit of an edge in shots and territory. I thought we got a little sloppy with our structure defensively. It just opened things up for them. All of a sudden, it is 2-1.
We gave them life. That was something we didn’t want to do at all tonight. We did that, but I thought we handled it well, for the most part, from there. That was a good sign.
On the way the team has played since the pause:
Keefe: It is hard to judge, to be honest. In the first game against Ottawa, we got great results. It is a funny game. You are playing against a team that had half a lineup or so. It was such a long time without playing a game.
It was another long stretch before we played this one here. There were no fans. It is another team that is shorthanded. It is hard to make a lot out of it.
You can’t help but feel this is another… It has a bit of a preseason feel, to be honest. It is not just because we are coming back out of a long break with no playing games. It is also just going from a full building to an empty building. It is different, for sure.
It has felt a lot different. It feels like we are still working our way back towards being the team that we need to be.
Now, we get a day off tomorrow, we’ll get a good practice day, and then get ourselves out on the road. That is going to feel a lot more like the NHL. It feels like we are ramping up towards that.
It is going to be a difficult road trip for us. There are some very challenging teams we will be playing, starting with Colorado. That is where our mindset is at now.
On the NHL postponing another game (Jan. 17 vs. NJD) and whether there is concern about the crush of games later in the schedule:
Keefe: A little bit, to be honest. I don’t know how it is all going to shake out in the end. Obviously, there is a significant gap there that they have to work with in February for us. We will see how that shakes out. I think they have a plan that we are waiting on for that game on the 17th.
I can understand why they want to postpone that one. It works out in our favour coming back off of a long road trip and stuff like that. With the whole empty-building thing, I think our guys wanted to play games and get up and running, but we want to try to get as many games as we can with our fans in the building.
On the feeling on the bench with no fans:
Keefe: It is just different. We have been through it, obviously, before. When we came into it, it was easy to say, “We did this last season, so it will be an easy adjustment.” From my perspective, it has felt a whole lot different going from full to empty. That has been a dramatic change.
I think the players have felt that. I think the game has suffered as a result, frankly. It hasn’t helped that we have gone so long without playing. Now you are trying to get up and running. It is difficult for it not to have a scrimmage type of feel out there.
That is the situation we are in. We are fortunate to be able to play the games, but it is hard not to acknowledge that is the case and the feeling out there.
We are going to get out on the road here and play in full buildings. We have to be prepared to ramp up because it is going to be a different type of feel and a different type of pace, without a doubt, on Saturday.
On Ilya Mikheyev’s successful return to the lineup (three goals in three games):
Keefe: He makes us a better team. There is no question about that. It is not just because he scored here. We had known that as long as Miky has been with us. He makes us a deeper team, a better team.
I thought he had a great camp and a great preseason. He was taking advantage of any of the additional opportunities that we were giving him. It is nice to see that continue here.
Because he had such a good camp, we wanted to try to get him off to a good start here and try to pick up where we left off. That is why we have had him take a spot on the power play right away and get some minutes that way.
I don’t think it could’ve worked out any better in terms of him getting the production early to give him a boost after such a long layoff.
On whether the coaching staff is encouraging Mikheyev to shoot more:
Keefe: It is not so much coming from the coaching staff. Miky is a guy who is always eager to shoot. I think it is more just him being excited to come back. He wants to get things to the net. He wants to produce offensively. The additional power-play minutes give him extra opportunity to put pucks at the net, so I think that is a byproduct of it.
He is just excited to get back playing. He is a guy who is just going to put the puck at the net and look for good things to happen. Here, in the early going, the uck is falling his way, and it is great to see.
On the Mikheyev line forcing an icing that set up the goal by the Matthews line:
Keefe: Without a doubt, those are the little things that sometimes go unnoticed. That is important that those guys get recognition for that. For everybody throughout our lineup, little things like that influence the play positively and set our team up for success.
It was the end of the period, and we came out with Matthews, Nylander, and Marner there off of the faceoff. We got one to the net, and it fell for us.
We find that the more you can do positive things to influence things in our favour, those types of bounces go your way. Mikheyev, Kampf, and Engvall do that very effectively. That is why we like them playing together.
On William Nylander’s superb consistency of late (19 points in his last 12 games):
Keefe: His skill set is always going to allow him opportunities to put up points. The thing with Willy is just expanding his game. I have been wanting to give him opportunities to expand his game this season. He is taking on some PK minutes. We came out of a timeout at the end of the game with the goalie out, and he was out there.
I think it is really important that players expand their roles within our team. We need everybody to be comfortable playing in every situation, whether it is Mikheyev on the power play, or Willy on the PK or out with the goalie out.
We can’t rely on just the same people all the time. We are trying to give as many people as possible opportunities. That is why, in a 3-2 game coming out of a timeout, we had a lot of fresh people but I wanted to get that line back out there. I thought they had done a good job throughout the game. I challenged them to get the job done in that defensive situation.
Those are the areas where his game is expanding, and I think his confidence grows within that. He is on the ice more. He is getting more touches. I think that is all a big part of it.
I have really liked a lot of the things Willy has done for us throughout the season — not just the points.