Sheldon Keefe, Toronto Maple Leafs
Toronto Maple Leafs head coach Sheldon Keefe addresses the media after practice

After practice on Monday, Sheldon Keefe discussed the challenge of winning the division this season over the other top three teams in the Atlantic, Greg Moore and the Marlies’ current six-game winning streak, and Jake Muzzin’s uncharacteristic struggles this season.

How did the storm today impact anything you were doing at practice?

Keefe: It didn’t necessarily impact what we were doing. It was up in the air, frankly, as to whether or not we were going to practice at all. We had a number of guys that were having challenges getting here. Guys ended up getting here at various times — some missed our meeting, some showed up just in time, some got here just as we got on the ice. We were up in the air as to what we could actually accomplish on the ice.

Ultimately, everybody got here on time for practice. We were able to get done most of what we intended to do. It was definitely a strange day. We were telling our guys, with the challenges with the weather and all of that, we didn’t need anyone forcing their way here in unsafe conditions. Ultimately, they were able to find their way here safe and sound. We got an appropriate level of work done.

What are you weighing up when deciding whether or not to go ahead with a day like this?

Keefe: It is just trying to get a feel for what guys are going through to get here. All of the staff was here quite early this morning, as we always are. It was not a fun commute. Most of our staff — coaches and trainers and such — live a lot further outside the city than the players do.

I wasn’t expecting a lot of issues for our players, but we did have some guys with significant challenges. They were able to work it out. Different people picked up guys that couldn’t get out of their driveways and stuff like that.

It was an eventful morning, as I am sure it was for anybody who had to commute today. Luckily, everybody got here safely. Hopefully, everybody gets home safe, and we’ll find our way through this.

All of the teams in the top half of the Atlantic Division are turning it on. Does it underline how tough the division is, not that you didn’t know it going into the season?

Keefe: We are well aware. We are in a division where we are surrounded by elite teams that are rolling and don’t lose very often. I think we looked at it yesterday, and we are 7-2-1 in our last 10 games. Over that span, we’ve actually lost ground on Boston — or, I should say, they’ve gained ground on us.

That is just the nature of the way the division has gone. Obviously, Florida and Tampa don’t lose very often. We have been fortunate to stay up with them. Despite the fact that there is a lot of season left, you can’t take days off or nights off.

That is why it was frustrating that we gave up those points on the road like we did, whether it was giving up a lead or giving up two points in Arizona. Those are tough points. Those are things that you have to be able to find our way to get your share of points every single night because everybody around you is not giving you any room to breathe.

I think that is a very healthy thing for our team. We can’t take nights off. Every game matters. There is a lot of runway left here. For a team like ours that is trying to maintain high standards in our play and get back to playing at the level we were before the break, the fact that the teams around us aren’t giving us that room to breathe is a good thing for our group.

Is the importance of winning the division something that is discussed amongst the team internally?

Keefe: It is not something that we talk about often. We don’t discuss the standings very often, but it is something that has been discussed, certainly, since day one of camp. Our goal is to win the division. We feel like we should.

We are well aware of the elite teams around us and how challenging it is through 82 games to maintain that level of play to be able to be at the top. We want to win every single game. We feel like we have an opportunity to win every game with the team that we have.

Absolutely, the goal is to win the division.

Greg Moore is approaching his 100th game as head coach. The team has won six in a row. What have you noticed about his coaching that has guided them to the success they are having?

Keefe: I can’t speak specifically to anything recent. I don’t get a chance to see everything that is going on there today. I haven’t seen the team play much since they back from Christmas and since we’ve been going.

Greg is a guy who works extremely hard. He is very prepared. I think he takes a very positive and productive approach to player development. He is about making the players better and doing so in an environment that is going to teach them structure and game habits and tactics — and also one that encourages them to make plays and challenge themselves offensively.

He has had a number of challenges there this season as any coach has had with Covid, injuries, callups, taxi squad, and all of these different things. They’ve done a good job there of dealing with that.

I do know that the players who have come up to play with us — whether it is the Andersons or Seneys of the world, or Steeves, Rubins, Biega — have come in and done a good job for us. That is really what you are looking to see from your minor-league team: A) Players are getting better; B) When you need them, they are ready to play.

That is a credit to Greg and his coaching staff down there with AJ MacLean, Jon Snowden, and their group. They have done a really good job.

What has your assessment been of Jake Muzzin’s game since returning from the pause?

Keefe: I would say it is pretty similar to where it was before the pause — not to the level that he has shown in the league. He has some inconsistencies in each game, and yet, he is still a very valuable player for us and takes on very difficult minutes. He is a huge part of our penalty kill and our most physical defenseman by far.

He is doing lots of really good things, but there have been some inconsistencies there, particularly with the puck. That is when things have gone badly for him.

He is as committed to anyone to improving and working on his game. He is aware as anybody on our team of what he is going through and the fact that he has more to give us and better to give us. I am not worried about that aspect of it, but it is certainly something we have continued to talk about.

Why do you think there has been some inconsistency in Muzzin’s game this season?

Keefe: It is hard to say. It is hard to pinpoint that. It is something that we are looking at and talking about.

As I said, with Muzz, you have to look at the fact that he does a lot of really good things. I thought he had a tough night in St. Louis, but I went through it, and there were a lot of great moments in that game where he kills plays, eliminates guys, he’s physical, he’s knocking guys on their ass, and he’s getting us moving the other way. There are a ton of things that have gone well for him.

I think he is capable of carrying the load as a veteran defenseman for his partner and for his D pair, but some inconsistencies with his pairing haven’t helped. That has been something that we have talked a lot about, whether it is Holl or Liljegren or whatever we’ve worked through. We’ve changed the pairings up with Brodie. That all contributes to it.

There have been some tough moments that really stand out with the puck, but at the same time, he takes on as hard minutes as anybody on our team. We are a team that has won a lot of hockey games this season. We are not doing that if Muzz isn’t taking on those minutes that he is.