Sheldon Keefe addressed the media after his team’s 5-2 win over the Florida Panthers that improved the Leafs’ record to 41-19-5 on the season.
Opening statement on the CANMNT Qualifying for the 2022 World Cup:
Before we start, I’d like to pass on my congrats to Coach Herdman and the Canadian men’s soccer team. It has been fun to watch that group. Their competitive spirit, how they have competed for each other and their country throughout this as I have watched, has been something to behold.
To see them get rewarded and punch their ticket to the World Cup has been outstanding. With the accomplishments of the women’s program and now the men, soccer is firmly entrenched here in Canada. It has been fun to watch that. Congrats to them.
On the team’s effort defensively against a top offensive team:
I think we remained committed to it all the way from the start of the game. We made a mistake on the first goal for sure. That is the most dangerous team in the league, maybe save for Colorado, on the rush, and I don’t think we gave up anything on the rush.
It was a huge challenge for our team to do that. We stuck with it all the way through. When you do that and you are playing against the top offensive team in the NHL, you are taking away a lot of their weapons right there. That gave us a chance.
The start was huge today. We were a leg up in the game all the way throughout — not unlike Montreal last night, but we finished it all the way through with outstanding performance on special teams, great goaltending, and a great third period where didn’t give up a ton.
We scored to extend our lead, and then we did a good job of hanging on there in the 6-on-5. Great effort and a good win for our team.
On John Tavares’ two-goal game:
I think he was really good tonight in all facets of the game. For him to find two pucks there right around the net — and he is as good as anyone in hockey below the hashmarks in the slot there — and make good on them was great.
Two great plays by Mitch, also — the first one to deliver the puck there and get it to the net, and then there was the rebound and great vision to find him on the backside. Great vision by Mitch and great finishes by John.
He was great in all facets of the game today, so to get rewarded on the power play was really good.
On Petr Mrazek bouncing back this week with two wins:
It shows that he is a battler. He competes. He believes in himself. He was outstanding again tonight. That is two in a row now where he has looked like the goalie that he is and he has been throughout his career. That is great.
He has bounced back and responded well to adversity here. That is a terrific sign and a testament to his character.
On Mitch Marner becoming the fastest ever Leaf to 300 assists:
Special. He is a difference-maker for sure. He makes everybody better around him. Terrific accomplishment.
There has been a lot of great players who have worn the blue and white. To do it in such a convincing fashion speaks to the abilities that he has.
On how William Nylander responded after a tough game against Montreal:
I thought he was good. I thought he worked and was on the puck. He had some chances and made some plays. I had no issues with Willy’s game today.
On the play of the new middle-six forward lines:
I liked the way the lines played today with the setup. I liked how it shaped up. Florida has three lines that can really score and a fourth line that is hard on you. Their fourth line got a goal tonight.
The way it was spread out worked well for us, I thought, in terms of having both offensive and defensive presence on every line — guys I trust defensively, guys that can make a difference offensively. It was really good that way.
I think it allowed our structure to get into place and get to the point, especially with the top three lines, that I had lots of confidence just rolling them. I was not too concerned about matchups. I liked that.
It was a big goal by Miky. He is making good on his breakaways now. It is a good development for him and for us. His confidence is high. It was another one today where he uses his speed to take it across and go around the goaltender. He looks real confident.
Another big-time play by Mitch to find him in there coming late, and Miky’s effort and speed beat Barkov up the rink to get him into that spot. It was great.
On Mark Giordano’s details to his game:
Those are details that I maybe didn’t have a great appreciation for having not coached him. You see how many plays he breaks up, and you also see how good he is around our net. Anything that comes around our net, he is either boxing out people and eliminating them from the play, or he is getting his stick on stuff and putting it out to safety.
He has just been great. With the way that he has come in here now, it is no coincidence that the three games he has been here have been the lowest chances that we have given up.
Part of that is what he does on the ice, but also, part of that is just the way that everything is slotted now. Shift over shift, the chances and the momentum for the other team are not building or compounding. We are skilling a lot more plays before they really develop.
The extra depth we have on defense, and Mark’s presence, have been great.
On whether he is okay with his team taking shots from their own side of center ice at the empty net:
It depends on the situation. We would love them to gain the red line. It is tough to gain the red line, especially when you are tired. Back pressure is coming and all of those kinds of things. On some of those we for sure need to get out over the blue line. At times, we were tired, and our feet weren’t moving. We were trying to make tight plays whereas I would like to see that get out over the line and make them at least have to regroup.
Generally speaking, if they have a clear lane to the net and no path to get the red line, I want them to take the shot. I think John took one today and missed by a bit. Auston’s attempt late… Those are good examples to me of there being a clear path to the net. These are NHL players and the very best ones. You trust them to take that shot.
If it doesn’t work out, it is a faceoff, and we will be set and settle down. For certain, we want to make sure it gets out over our line. That is the priority. If you are under pressure and you can’t quite get the red line, we want you to advance it and not force the shot in that situation. Try to put the puck to a safe place.
On how the mentality around shooting from your own end has changed over the years:
When I played, you never took that shot, but I think it is a combination of maybe stats, data, and stuff like that. The faceoff back in your own end isn’t the end of the world versus if you don’t take the shot, you might turn it over in your half of the ice, and then you get even more tired. At least the faceoff is a chance to breathe a little bit. A little more recognition of that.
We have had a few of these games here now where we can do a better job of those decisions — when to take the shot, when not to, and when to just advance the puck, get over lines, and set up structure. It wasn’t perfect today, but Auston’s shot was pretty smooth at the end there.
On whether the first goal on the power play set up the second one:
That is a fair statement. I hadn’t thought of it that way, but I’d say it is fair. That is what comes from Mitch being a shot threat. He comes down, is decisive, and delivers the puck to the net.
We have talked a lot to our flank shooters, including Auston. At times, you are not going to score on that shot. It is okay to even have that mindset that you are not shooting it to score. It is almost like a pass off of the goalie. Teams are flexing out so hard on us now, especially on Auston, that it is really hard to get a dangerous shot that is going to be a threat to actually score, but we have really dangerous people around the net as well in John and Will.
The more we can get it there, great. I certainly think when Mitch is going to deliver it, they need to flex out and block to be a presence there. He found the rebound on the first one. I haven’t watched the second one back too closely, but no surprise John recognized that and communicated.
That is what we want from our players. They are out there. They see it. They are seeing seams, angles, and things that we are not quite seeing from the bench or we might see a little differently. Those guys need to take charge. They have played a long time and have seen a lot of those scenarios.
That is what happened. Good on them. Great to see them get rewarded.