Sheldon Keefe addressed the media after his team’s 6-3 loss to the New York Rangers that dropped the Leafs’ record to 24-10-3 on the season.
On the team losing its way after the first period:
I thought we obviously had a good start to the game. We have had a lot of really good starts to games here of late. Obviously, it has been the finish that hasn’t gone well — or the second half of games haven’t gone well. Tonight, maybe a fast start ended up working against us. I don’t know. I just thought we played the game as if it was going to be really easy the rest of the way, and we paid for it.
On the pattern of coughing up multi-goal leads:
In the previous games, I thought it was different. Today, I just thought we played soft. We made poor decisions defensively. We couldn’t sort anything out. I just thought it was far different.
Each game has been different, so it is hard to talk about patterns other than the obvious in that we have been giving up leads. I just thought we got exposed today for being a team that was just soft and purposeless and just kind of playing the game hoping it was going to work out.
We are missing important people tonight on defense, in particular, so our team game had to be very, very solid and purposeful in trying to make life easier on our defensemen and goaltender. We didn’t do that nearly enough.
Because of our good start, we were in a position to get at least a point out of this game here tonight. We got two breakaways in the third period. If we score on either of those… JT had a really good look on a pass from below the goal line. If those go in, it changes the result in the game, but it doesn’t change how we played, and how we played is not nearly good enough.
I didn’t think we had anybody that played well tonight. Coaches didn’t coach well tonight. Tonight is a much different game than we have played than the others where we have given up leads and such. I just didn’t think we had nearly enough urgency or purpose.
On the team’s “purposelessness” and an example of the type of play that was missing:
A play that stands out to me: We were in the neural zone. We were up 3-1 in the second period. The fourth line was on the ice. We turned it over in the neutral zone instead of getting it in and establishing a forecheck. In turn, their fourth line comes to life, gets on the forecheck, wins a puck back, and scores a huge goal.
Just little plays like that where you have one fourth line that goes out with a ton of purpose. Ours didn’t have the same. It ended up turning the hockey game. We weren’t good enough in response to that to win the game or get the game back going our way.
Again, I think we could’ve scored more goals than we did tonight. We had those huge chances in the third period. We still carried play in a lot of ways — outshot them, and all of that — but you can’t play soft and purposeless hockey and win. And you can’t defend the way we did tonight and give them those clean looks at the net.
On the performance of the Sandin-Liljegren pairing:
They had tough nights. It is a lot to ask of those guys. It just goes to show how important Jake Muzzin is and even Justin Holl. Those guys, as I have talked about a lot, play very difficult minutes. You can look at the stat sheet and the minutes and say, “This guy is capable of playing more. This guy should be playing less.” But the types of minutes are different. The responsibilities and pressures are different.
Those guys got a taste of that today, and I didn’t think it went well for them. As I said before the game, I thought those guys would come out of this experience and be better for it. One way or another, they are going to be better — either better because you have proved to yourself you can handle it and you’re off and running, or you show that you still need to work, pick your spots, and continue to develop.
I think that is what we saw here tonight. It was a tough night for those guys, but again, they didn’t get anywhere near enough support from how we played as a team. That is what they needed tonight. You have young guys back there taking on big responsibility. You have to play much, much better as a team.
On Jack Campbell’s recent stretch with quite a few goals against:
He is not playing to the same level. I think that is obvious. We have come to expect his ability to make big saves, not unlike the one he made midway through the third there — another time we left him wide open in the crease, and he made a huge save. We have come to expect those from him.
As I said, we didn’t play nearly well enough as a team here tonight. We got exposed in a lot of areas that we haven’t necessarily been exposed in. That is why I feel this one is different. This one should bother us greatly because of how we played. It wasn’t nearly good enough.
Coaches, all the way through the lineup — not nearly good enough.
On whether a shock to the system might be healthy for the group:
Sure. Whatever you are going through, that is the reality. That is who you are and where you are at. We feel like we will get ourselves back to being the team that we were.
Obviously, we have been playing without important people. Early in the last road trip, we didn’t have someone like Marner. Now we are playing without Muzzin and Holl. Kase has been out. Those are important people that really help our team.
If we are going to be a team that accomplishes anything, we have to be able to take that on and find ways to play better as a team. That is what bothered me the most here today. We were just kind of making it up as we went.
That falls on coaches. That falls on me to have the team prepared to play. Obviously, our start was really good — and we liked that — but our ability to sustain it was just not even close to good enough.