Sheldon Keefe addressed the media after his team’s 5-2 win over New York Islanders which improved the Leafs’ record to 29-11-8.
On what he disliked about the first period and what changed afterward:
No life. No energy. No pace. No execution.
What changed — we came into the first intermission with a chance to regroup. I don’t think a lot had to be said pointing out the obvious. It is on the players. They did the talking. They came out on the ice way more focused with way more life and energy right from the drop of the puck. The first shift was excellent, and we didn’t really look back from there.
On the decision to switch Mitch Marner and William Nylander on the top two lines:
Obviously, we had to change something — or many things — but that was probably the biggest change. It was noticeable from the first shift in terms of what Mitch and Auston brought: life and energy.
John and Will connected as well. Things started to come together for us.
On Ilya Samsonov’s performance:
Excellent. I was just going through some of it with Curtis Sanford in there. There were some things that maybe don’t show up as the high-end saves he made, but Curtis looks at this stuff a lot closer than any of us. He felt this was as strong of a game as he’s played in terms of what he is asking him to do and the process he is looking for him to play with. He is looking very comfortable in the net right now.
On Samsonov’s stretch pass prior to the Tavares goal on the power play:
Excellent. Again, it shows how dialed in he is right now.
That is a power play there, but we do talk a lot about that. We can catch the other team in line changes in the second period, especially. You want to have your goalie have the ability to go there and for your player to be in that spot to be able to receive it as the signal to tell the goalie you want it.
It came together nicely there.
On the crowd’s reaction to the PA announcement of Samsonov’s assist and whether it similarly fires up the team on the bench:
Probably not as much as you think. I think it’s more that they get fired up when they see the goalie make the saves, which he certainly did. It gave us a chance to stay involved in the game. But it is nice.
Our fans are in tune with what is going on — good and bad — and they recognized at that moment that the goaltender made a significant contribution. It is not something you see or hear every day, so it was good to see them respond.
On William Nylander and John Tavares’ second period:
Terrific. Two great goals. Willy has been excellent, and he was excellent today. In that second period, he was really good.
I thought the second period was the best period John Tavares has played all season. I thought that got Willy going. Willy finished the chances and Willy was good, but I thought JT was excellent. He led us in the second period and was really good.
He made plays. He was hard on the puck. He was winning battles. He was getting in behind their defense. The goal he scored was great, but there were a number of sequences where he just came out with the puck or held onto the puck, got a guy on his ass, and was getting into good ice and making plays. All of the things he does at an elite level came together at that time.
He was really good. The Matthews, Marner, and Bunting line was really good and didn’t get rewarded for it until Matthews’ goal in the third, but they were good and generated positive momentum for us.
I thought John was really, really good in that second period, and it helped get Willy going. Willy didn’t have a good first like one of us did. I thought he really led the way there. It was good to see that.
On the message to the team after the first 20 minutes:
The guys know it was not a good period. You are hoping that your team is going to say the right things, be focused, and be in the right mindset. I don’t feel I need to go in there and say too much other than pointing out the obvious and putting the game onto them.
They need to respond. They need to go out, and it takes significant effort to be able to take a game over like that against a team that is playing hard, trying to get some traction, and trying to get some wins. They are leading after the first period after taking it to us pretty good. For us to flip the game like that, it is going to take a significant effort.
The players have to be in the right frame of mind to do that. I was really, really impressed with our team’s ability to bounce back and flip the game. It was really good to see.