Head coach Sheldon Keefe spoke to the media after his team’s 3-1 win over the New York Islanders on Saturday night that improved the Leafs’ record to 25-10-3 on the season.
On his team’s overall effort:
I thought it was a good effort by all of our defensemen tonight. I liked a lot of what our whole lineup did. Each line gave us good shifts and good efforts. I loved our second period and how we took care of that and got the 3-1 lead. I thought we were in full control the second half of that second period, which is really good.
The third period wasn’t perfect in terms of controlling play. We’d like to spend more time in their zone like we did in the second, but I thought there was progress and we defended really well. We didn’t give any clean looks at our net at all, and [Mrazek] was strong with anything they threw at him.
On how Mitch Marner has helped the team immensely since his return:
He’s an important player for us, so having him back makes us a far deeper team. Everybody kind of just slots in better [when he’s there]. He got a huge goal for us on the penalty kill — to get a goal like that is big for him. Special teams goals are very important.
Obviously, we had our power play going early on, but we couldn’t convert. They have a chance after that, and we need a kill, but not only do we get the kill, we get a goal. To be plus one on special teams, no matter how you get it done, is important. Mitch contributes so much in that area.
On Rielly’s play amidst the absence of both Jake Muzzin and Justin Holl:
You take Muzzin and Holl out of the lineup and not only are you relying on the younger guys to step up and play more, but Rielly and Brodie are going to take more of a load as well. Minutes go up a little bit, but they also just get harder — you’re not sharing the D-zone faceoffs as much as you have with Muzzin and Holl in there.
There’s a lot of responsibility on Morgan’s shoulders along with Brodie. Morgan, specifically — as we’ve been talking about — his game is in a really good spot on both sides of the puck. We’ve talked about how his defending has improved, He’s keeping the play in front of him and closing out really well. He’s doing all that without subtracting from his offense. You saw that in the second period with a big-time goal.
On Pierre Engvall’s performance as of late:
I’ve really liked his game lately — the way he’s skating, hanging onto the puck, getting us out of our zone, and into the neutral zone. He and Mikheyev both have that ability — and Kampf, for that matter. There’s a race for a puck in our zone, they have the speed and the length to get onto it quickly, and they get us out of trouble and onto offense. He’s an important player for us in that way, and he’s playing with confidence right now.
We’ve used him in different situations. He’s a bit like Kerfoot in that he’s played all three [forward] positions for us this season and he’s done a good job. That was a big-time goal he scored for us right at the end of the second period. He has that ability to get to the net and make good on it, so we’re really happy with him.
When we get Kase back and we’ve hopefully remained healthy, having another utility guy like Pierre that can move around makes us deeper no matter how the lines shake out. It’s a good asset for us to have. He’s gaining confidence and, of course, I’m gaining confidence in him in terms of using him in any role and any line. More importantly, [I can use him] against any line.
On Rasmus Sandin and Timothy Liljegren’s performance in their second-consecutive game as the second pair:
I thought those guys were excellent today. I thought they played with such poise in a game that was not easy to play. It’s a loud building, the fans are screaming, they’re forechecking hard, and they’re hard at the net — it’s not an easy game playing against the Islanders, and those guys played really hard.
Perhaps most importantly, [they] played through physicality and traffic. To me, that’s real toughness. When things are hard, guys are closing on you quickly and you know you’re going to get hit, are you still able to use those skills that you have? Those guys did that. They made plays under pressure knowing that contact was coming.
There were times there when they were really coming at us and finishing their checks and being physical on us. Those guys — and our whole team, I thought — remained strong on the stick and we got out of our zone and rolling.