Sheldon Keefe addressed the media after his team’s 4-1 win over the Detroit Red Wings that improved the Leafs’ record to 24-9-7.
On the team’s recovery after a slow start:
I just thought Detroit was just playing harder than us. It showed. They just had a little more urgency in everything that they were doing. We knew they were going to forecheck and make it hard to get out of their end. They did that. I thought we made it easier on them by not playing through it quickly enough.
Our players responded really well, but Sammy’s play gave us a chance and gave us the confidence to stay with it. I liked our second and third periods.
On where the game turned in the second period:
We scored a big power-play goal right off the bat. That is really big. It did still take us a few shifts after that at five-on-five to really find our game. There was a segment of time — I can’t remember exactly the minutes — when the pace and energy in the building increased significantly in our favour. That gave us life.
We didn’t necessarily score with that, but it might’ve been right after John scored that we really started to come. Not only did we have that lead, but we just kept coming and coming at them. I thought we did our job in terms of wearing them down. The second period was tough on them.
A huge second goal for us, too, with a great sequence between Gio to Jarnkrok to John driving the middle with a great finish. That was really good.
In the second and third periods, I thought there were some real positives for sure that gave us the win.
On the decision to move Morgan Rielly back onto the top power-play unit in the second period onward:
Just a matter of circumstance in the game with what is going on. We started the second period with something like 38 or 39 seconds left [in the power play]. It wasn’t quite enough to go with five forwards there. We put Morgan in.
And then it was 2-1 game. I thought the game… I just didn’t think at that moment that the risk was worth it. It is just more of a matter of what is happening in the game.
On the play of Calle Järnkrok on the line with John Tavares and Mitch Marner:
He has been good. That line has been uneventful both ways — offensively and defensively. They haven’t really clicked here of late. But I like Jarny’s defensive play that he brings to the line. He’s really solid. You can see in times like tonight, or at times when he makes a play when there is an opportunity to make it, or if he is a guy who is on the end of the play to finish it — I think he brings a lot there.
To that end, I think it has been good. It was a good day today. You can see that, in the last game and again tonight, JT’s game is beginning to ramp back up again. When that is the case, that line is really going to get going, and it all kind of comes together that way.
Jarny has shown the ability to play with those guys. That is a good thing for us.
On the positive signs he’s seeing from Tavares in the last two games:
It just seems to me like he has a little more jump in his step and a little more confidence with the puck. I don’t know what to attribute it to. Like a lot of players or most players in the league, your play kind of goes up and down. It seems like he is on the rise here now. His confidence looks good.
I don’t know, with the time off with the break, if it takes a little bit to get going. I certainly think that is the case with our team. I thought that segment in the second period was the best I have really felt behind the bench in quite a while in terms of the pace and how it was all coming together from one shift to the next.
You could see that with some of the individuals as well — John included.
On the performance of Ilya Samsonov:
I think it is noteworthy the job Sammy did tonight. We were needing our whole team to play better, but our goalie needs to play better as well.
It hasn’t gone as well for them, but Sammy — in the last three days, in particular — has put in some real work with Curtis Sanford. Our team took [Friday] off. Sammy and Curtis did not take [Friday] off. Those guys were in working on the ice.
From the morning right through to the game tonight, Sammy’s focus was really, really solid. He looked destined to have a great night tonight. He was excellent.
We didn’t give up a great deal in the second and third periods, but he was ready for anything that was going to come at him. I was really impressed by the work that he put in to get prepared for this game, and then the way he came out and gave our group confidence.
On Mitch Marner’s use of his feet prior to the empty-net goal:
He has a lot of confidence there, and more often than not, it goes our way. When it doesn’t, it maybe doesn’t look as good, but that is the fine line that makes a player like Mitch special.