Sheldon Keefe addressed the media after his team’s 4-1 win over the Pittsburgh Penguins that improved the Leafs’ record to 13-5-5 this season.
On the team’s ability to tilt the ice against a team like the Penguins:
They just continued to play the way they have been. I thought we even took it up a notch here in terms of foot races and winning puck battles. We broke out of our zone really well tonight, which I thought was a real key to the game and has been for a while now. I thought we did that maybe as good as we have.
Guys are just staying with it. I think there is a lot of belief in the room. We have been trying to foster that for quite some time. I think we have that happening. It gives you a chance to win every night.
On the team’s ability to take an early lead in games of late:
It is huge. You don’t quite expect to score on the first shift, but we talked about how the recipe for us of late has been to get off to good starts and control the game. It is sort of the way the game went the last time we were in here. It is the way it has been for us on this trip. It set us up for success for sure.
You don’t want to talk about it too much. In case it doesn’t go your way, it’s not the end of the world, but it certainly sets you up for success, especially on the road.
On Mitch Marner continuing to roll:
Clearly, he has found his game. In all regards, he has just been a difference-maker for us.
He scored a big-time goal for us tonight, but if you look at his assist again, on the Holmberg goal, it is not unlike the assist he got in New Jersey on Tavares’ goal. He was just winning battles, stripping defenders of the puck, and making a play in the most dangerous area of the ice.
There is also the way he defends and how he is talking on the bench. He is just really leading the way for us there.
On the play of Rasmus Sandin and Timothy Liljegren in the past week:
In one way or another, they are going to grow through this experience. I thought both guys were excellent today — maybe as good as they have been on this trip. We were on a back-to-back against an opponent like this where there are some really challenging matchups for them.
I thought they were really good. You can see them growing through this here. It is really nice to see.
On Michael Bunting’s effort on the 4-1 goal:
Incredible. You are not necessarily expecting it to finish with a goal like that, but our guys on the bench were already excited about the effort in front of our bench just to win that race and win the battle.
There was the pace he had onto the puck to get it into the offensive zone to begin with, and then to just stay on it and stay hungry, it brought all sorts of attention to him. Auston found a quiet area of the rink, and Bunts found him.
Auston finishes it, which is great to see as well. Auston has been playing some really good hockey for us and has really helped lead the way for us defensively with a lot of the things he has been doing. He has been getting some assists and things like that, but to get the goal is very fitting to end the night for us today.
On Pontus Holmberg adjusting to the NHL so quickly:
It is not overly surprising. We are talking about him now because he scored two goals on this trip, but what stands out to me is that it is his eighth game tonight, and I can’t find this guy making a mistake.
Throughout games, he is a young guy, and there are things you want to talk to him about and show him. You are expecting mistakes and corrections. This guy doesn’t make mistakes. He is incredibly smart.
Defensively, he is always in the right spot. He doesn’t even have a full grasp of the language here yet or the league, and yet he is picking up our system, our structure, and the things we are asking him to do. He is near perfect.
It is great to see him get rewarded for that with the offense, but to me, he is a guy who makes you feel good about putting him on the ice because he is going to do what you are asking of him and make it hard on whoever he is playing against.
On Holmberg’s physical play:
He is not a guy who is going to drive anybody through the wall or anything like that, but that is part of what he does defensively. He gets right into you and closes space very well.
That is a lot of what we have talked about with helping slow people down. He gets right in your jersey and in your way, and he is a strong guy. He is over 200 pounds.
He doesn’t have much experience in the NHL or in North America, but he has played pro for a while now. I think he is now 24 years old or something like that. If you look at his pedigree, he has won a championship. He has been a playoff MVP in the Swedish elite league. To me, right from day one of the rookie tournament out in Traverse City, he looked like a guy who was going to help us this year.