Sheldon Keefe addressed the media after his team’s 4-3 shootout win over the Vegas Golden Knights that improved the Leafs’ record to 23-8-3 on the season.
On the team’s performance after building a 3-1 lead:
I thought that we started the second period by giving the game back and opening it up. It led to one of those stretches — a three or four-minute stretch — where we really couldn’t get the puck and couldn’t get anything going. We really allowed their game to take hold.
That was the type of game we thought it would be. With that type of team, if we make a mistake on an entry and have no structure coming back up ice, we make it easy for them to get through the neutral zone. We really hadn’t done that through the whole first period. They got their o-zone game going from there.
That made it a tougher second period for us. We were able to get two goals, which was obviously huge for us. We had an opportunity in the third period to make good on what we failed to do the other night, and we failed to do that again today.
I think the third period was a lot different than it was the other night. I didn’t think we gave up very much in the third period. I went through it very quickly; at five on five, I think we gave up two scoring chances in the third period, and one was the goal early in the third.
Obviously, we made an unacceptable and rare mistake on the penalty kill to put us down on the five on three. That was the difference there. We go from missing a shorthanded breakaway and breaking the game into a two-goal game again to instead killing a five on three. The game is tied. Disappointed with that.
We have played two very elite teams here in the West. We have gotten three of the four points. We feel good about that, but if we want to be a serious hockey team, we have to be better in third periods and find ways to control the game.
On the number of minor penalties the team took tonight:
I didn’t like any of our penalties today at all — stuff far away from our net, careless penalties. The too many men — I don’t remember the last time I saw a shorthanded team get called for a too many men, especially when they have the puck. Those are the things that can’t happen. Those are the mental mistakes that you have to get out of your game if you want to win games and take care of games against good teams.
Not good for us there. The power play wasn’t good enough, either. It has been a long time since we didn’t get the edge on special teams. We thought coming into the game today, it was a real opportunity for us to win that battle. We weren’t good enough on either side of it tonight.
On whether the extended time off plays a role in the forfeited leads of late:
It would be nice for us to say that. It is the reality that we haven’t played in games like this in quite a while — certainly not teams of this calibre. You can practice all you want, but until you have another team on the other side pushing back with a sold-out building that is yelling and screaming, it is not the same. You have to go through that.
The fact that we got three out of four points in these two hockey games is a very good sign for our team. There is the fact that you can take three out of four points away from it as well as some very valuable lessons for us as a group in terms of areas we have to be better in.
If you look at us before Christmas, we had been quite good in third periods. Just this week in these last couple of games, it obviously hasn’t gone our way. It has our attention to clean that up.
Today is a completely different animal than in Colorado. In Colorado, we were absolutely dominated in the third period. Today, I don’t think it was a defensive issue. Granted, on the first goal in the third period, that was a defensive issue. That was unacceptable how we played that. We didn’t give up much after that.
To me, it is more of an issue of: we have to relax and play the game, make some plays, play on offense, and control the play. We can’t just be on our heels. That is what I didn’t like about tonight and, in some ways, against Colorado. Tonight, we didn’t push back offensively.
I liked how our guys defended. They did a good job. There were scoring chances against in that third period at five on five, and really, through the game, I thought our guys defend very well. This is the number-one team in the NHL at scoring off of the rush. I don’t think we gave up anything off of the rush tonight. Our guys were really committed to that.
That gives us a chance to win the game, but there are just little things. When it is a one or two-goal hockey game, it is the little mistakes that can hurt you. To me, we just have to continue to play our game when we are in control.
We are going to get on a plane and go out to Arizona tonight. We’ll be ready to go at it again tomorrow in a game that we can’t overlook. We have to be at our best here. We should be a little aggravated about how we have let these leads slip away in these two games, and take that aggravation and turn it into motivation in terms of playing a good, silent team game tomorrow night.
On Matthews returning to Arizona, Bunting playing against his old team tomorrow, and Keefe’s family roots in the state:
The family part of it is something for me for sure. I know for Auston it is. For Bunts, going back to play against an organization that gave you a start in the NHL — those things matter more for someone on the ice than someone standing behind the bench.
I am hoping that kind of stuff is something that we can rally around tomorrow. Like I said, we can’t overlook tomorrow’s game. We are going to play a team that is rested.
We have played two very tough games on this trip. We have had ample time to recover between the first and second game. We should be having no issues as we get ready to play a good game again tomorrow night — a good, clean game because we haven’t played a clean game yet here on this trip.
On the status of Mitch Marner and Pierre Engvall:
Both guys are still in the protocol. That is all I have for you on that.