Sheldon Keefe addressed the media after his team’s 5-2 win over the Buffalo Sabres that improved the Leafs’ record to 10-5-4.
On the team’s performance:
First of all, I thought we were able to continue with the strong defensive play that we have been talking about here. We had to tighten things up when we went into Pittsburgh. The guys did that extremely well. We had to do that against New Jersey. I thought we did that extremely well.
Here again tonight, we were able to just keep it going. We talked about waiting for our opportunities to come. We felt they would come, whether that was at five-on-five or on special teams. Our power play came through.
Our guys remained committed through it. Obviously, we took too many penalties tonight. We gave them too many opportunities. Defensively, I thought we were exceptional tonight. Between how we defended and then how Matt Murray played in goal, I thought we were a tough team to beat tonight.
On the team’s five-on-five play in this game:
At five-on-five, they had next to nothing. It was as good as we have been in that way. We took too many penalties and their best people were touching the puck a lot and getting lots of shots that way. That is where Murray was just outstanding.
I thought our goaltending was elite tonight. Matt was really dialed in and focused. Those are some tough shooters. Pucks were coming through seams and all of that. He was excellent.
At five-on-five, we were not perfect, and there are still some things we are talking about and showing our group where we can get better, but I thought we really limited their game offensively. They didn’t get much in terms of odd-man rushes and didn’t get in behind us. That was as good as we have been that way.
We had been trending in that direction. [It was good] to see it executed that way once we had the lead. We were just patient, defended, and made life hard on them at five-on-five. Again, the penalties were too many, but I just really liked our game all the way through tonight.
On Mitch Marner’s 12-game point streak:
He’s making an impact in the game in so many ways and is just finding a way to contribute to our team, whether it is a big goal like he scored in Pittsburgh, just finding ways to contribute offensively to help our team score goals, defending, penalty killing… He is just doing a lot of things that are helping our team.
On Timothy Liljegren’s progression since returning from injury:
I thought he was extremely good tonight. We really liked him. We mixed the pairings up, obviously, as the game got going. We didn’t like the way some of the matchups were going. We adapted to that.
I thought Lily was really strong defensively. Him and Justin Holl both on the right side really gave us a lot in terms of their ability to skate and move up the ice, close gaps, and move the puck up the ice quickly.
I really liked what we saw from Timothy today. He has been managing that well. The last couple of games maybe haven’t been as strong, but today, I thought he was really good.
On the confidence in Matt Murray after the week he had since returning from injury:
Tremendous. Tonight, if you are looking at the reaction of the players on the bench… I mean, the puck is snapping around pretty good on the power play. It looks dangerous. They have some really strong shooters who can hammer the puck. He was tracking it well and making the save when he needed to.
It is a shame to see the two go in on him. The one kind of gets deflected, but he is there and it changes on him. You don’t like to see those go in because he deserves to have better numbers than the way he played tonight.
I can just tell you from being behind the bench and seeing our players: He gave our team tremendous confidence tonight.
On re-uniting Matthews-Marner and Nylander-Tavares in the first period:
I just didn’t like the way it was going defensively for us. I had it in my mind going in that the line would be a lot to handle, but early on, we were making some mistakes that were really allowing that group to get going offensively early in the game. I thought they were really controlling things.
I wanted to make that switch. Mitch, defensively, with what he brings to our group in a matchup that challenging — I thought it was important to put those guys together. That way, while we are all talking about the offense and all of those kinds of things, you forget that Matthews and Marner are two of the best defensive players in the league. When they are committed to defending and being hard to play against, it is tough on the opposition. I thought those guys did a nice job.
At the same time, I thought or knew the Tavares line was going to get a pretty good matchup with the way that things were flowing. I thought it could benefit Willy that way, too.
On William Nylander’s comment that it wasn’t his best game despite the two goals:
Over the last couple of seasons, Willy knows that the standard and expectations are really high — both that he puts on himself and that we as an organization put on him. All of those guys are core people who have been here for a number of years and have been through a lot together. The standard is extremely high.
I really like that he acknowledged he was not at his best despite scoring some goals. I thought that change of lines was necessary. It just sort of fit the group better with the challenge against the opposition. That is what he has the ability to do when you can get him a really favourable matchup: the ability to score us goals, be it power play or the five-on-five goal which ultimately pulls us away and finishes the game off for us.
You like to see that about him. You also like that he is conscious enough to know he can be better.
On the challenge against the Islanders on Monday:
They are playing real good hockey. We feel good about our game, but it is going to be another team coming in feeling good. We are going to have to continue doing the things we are doing.
I think we are really starting to believe in what we are doing defensively and how it is giving us a chance to win. I just love how we managed the game today and managed our emotions. We defended hard in the third period and got rewarded for it with a five-on-five goal.
Those are the kinds of things and that is the kind of recipe that I think will helps us no matter who we are playing.