Sheldon Keefe spoke to the media after his team’s 7-1 drubbing of the New Jersey Devils that improved the Leafs’ record to 29-10-3 on the season.
On the team getting off to a good start after a few slow starts in a row:
It was really important for us for the obvious reason that we have had some poor starts here over the last little bit. We wanted to fix that.
Also, because you are playing the same opponent for the second time in back-to-back nights, you’re trying to have some continuation of the third period from the other night in terms of taking the will away of your opponent. A good start was something we were really looking for tonight both offensively and defensively.
We talked about how we needed to play better for our goaltenders. I liked the response of our guys here today, certainly, through the first period and even through the second. The third period is a bit of a write-off. The guys were really good today and gave us all we could ask for on a night like this.
On whether this was the ideal game to take into the break:
I think that is about as good as you could ask the game to go [entering the break]. You take control early, you build a big lead, you can use your bench, play your top guys less, and play your depth guys more. You are comfortable and riding out the clock into the break.
That is about as good as it can go for us on a night like this. Inside of that, we got a great goaltending performance. Through that third period, you could tell we were a little bit casual and we were not deploying the lineup and putting the lines out the way we normally would. That has an effect on the game. Jack really battled and was strong in the net.
There are so many good things that come out of a night like this.
On Jack Campbell bouncing back after he was pulled the night before:
I thought he was outstanding. In a game like this where we score so much, you tend to overlook the goaltending part of it. If you go back and look at some of their chances and looks at 0-0 — and even 1-0 or 2-0 — Jack was great. A couple of those saves he made in the second period are the Jack that has played all season for us like that.
When we play good defense, he has been there to make the saves we need him to make. In the times that we have breakdowns and give really good looks, he comes up with game-changing saves.
I love the way that he battled and responded tonight. Really, frankly, it is not a surprise. He is a guy who is a competitor. He wanted to get back in the net tonight. The guys played well in front of him. He did his part.
On the Bunting – Matthews – Marner line entering the break riding high:
They are very much on the same page. They are moving well with and without the puck to get available for each other and to find each other. They just have lots of drive.
When you take all of those things and combine it with the elite skill that they have, they are a hard group to handle. New Jersey, in these two games, had a real tough time with them.
On the fourth line of Engvall – Spezza – Simmondscoming to life recently:
With Spezz in particular, it is good to see him get on the board. That line has been better for us the last little bit. I didn’t think they were as good last night, but I look at tonight and a few games here now, and they have been good.
I think Engvall’s presence down there really helps that line just with his pace, the way he can get on top of pucks, the way he can get back, defend, and get back above the puck — all of those things really help that line.
It is big to have them contribute that way. I thought we had good efforts from everybody, but that is certainly something you are looking to come out of a game like this — for a line like that to come out and score, in Spezza’s case, and Wayne Simmonds made a great play on Pierre’s goal.
Those are all really good things that help their confidence. Most importantly, I thought those guys forechecked well; played a good, hard, simple game; and didn’t spend as much time in our end as they have in the previous games. There are lots of really good signs of that line coming together.
On Engvall’s progression since entering the league:
Like any player in the league, he is going to get more and more comfortable. In terms of improving, I don’t know if I would say he is improved, but he is just more comfortable. He knows how to play in the league and knows what he can and can’t get away with. He knows what his strengths are and how to utilize them. I think all of those things are important.
He has been a really good player for us in terms of his ability to move around our lineup. Right now, when we are healthy, we need him down on that fourth line. He makes that group better. As a result, he makes our team better.
It is really good to see that progression. It is important that our players continue to take those steps. You can call it an improvement or whatever, but I think it is really just experience in the league.
On the break coming up and if he’ll take advantage of it for some personal time:
I have a few things I am going to keep an eye on here and have loaded on my computer to look a little bit closer at now that we have some time, but I am going to take time to be with my wife and kids. That is important.
We talked to the team about how the schedule is going to get real busy for us here. That takes its toll on you and wears you down. Also, when you are playing a lot of games, you are not seeing your loved ones very much, whether you are at home or on the road. On game days, you may as well be on the road because you are not really around.
Our schedule is really going to heat up here and feel different than what we have had in the last six weeks or so. This break is important for everybody to connect with family, enjoy that time, get some rest, have a little bit of fun, enjoy themselves, and come back ready for a busy February and rest of the season.