Sheldon Keefe, Toronto Maple Leafs practice
Sheldon Keefe, Toronto Maple Leafs practice

After practice on Wednesday, head coach Sheldon Keefe discussed the team’s disappointing result in New York, the team’s recent 5-4-1 stretch, the status of his injured players, and much more.

Practice Lines – March 22

Is TJ Brodie back in tomorrow?

Keefe: Yeah, I haven’t talked to trainers, but that is the plan: get him a full practice. It seems like he is doing fine. As long as that is the case, he will be back in.

What is Bobby McMann’s status?

Keefe: He reaggravated the previous knee injury that he had. He aggravated that [vs. the Islanders]. He is going to miss some time. We don’t know the extent of it quite yet, but he is going to head back to Toronto. He won’t be available for the rest of the trip.

Without McMann, do you go back to the 11 and 7?

Keefe: We are going to talk about it. We wanted to get through practice today. We weren’t sure what McMann’s status was going to be. We didn’t want to necessarily adjust anything. We just went out and practiced.

How did you go about addressing the loss in New York with the group?

Keefe: Just talking about how we need to… To me, the biggest issue in the game, first of all, is just our inability to generate sustained offense.

Obviously, we have basically an empty net taken away from us with a chance to make the game 2-0. We had a breakaway in the second period. We didn’t score on those. We had some great looks there, but we didn’t get enough after that.

Part of it is a credit to the Islanders. A big part of it is us not utilizing all of the puck time we had to get to the net and generate more looks and traffic and all of those kinds of things. The Islanders, the way that they are playing — especially when they have a lead — force you to do [that].

There is that piece, and then there is the other piece where we just make big mistakes and give the game away. You are talking about both of those kinds of things, and then you are just moving on.

We have done a lot of good things. Our first period, with the exception of the last three minutes, was excellent. It was maybe as good as we have looked in a long while. We probably deserved to be up more than one. We weren’t. We let them hang around. We made mistakes, and it compounds.

We just have to keep building on the good things that we have done. We have done lots.

Is it just a back-to-basics approach in terms of getting the identity back from an offensive standpoint?

Keefe: It is adapting to the game. Each game is different. The Islanders played differently than we have seen from other teams — way more pressure on the puck than we have seen from different teams.

It was way more of a passive approach [on Tuesday]. They just back it in and protect their goalie, who happens to be elite. You have to really find different ways to get in.

We haven’t faced that in a while. I didn’t like how we adjusted to it. We have talked about it. We prepared for it. It is another thing to go out and execute it, especially when it is far different from what we have seen from different teams here in the last couple of weeks especially. We just didn’t adjust to that.

We just have to stay with our game. That is probably the biggest takeaway: You play a great first period, you are in full control of the hockey game, and you can’t sustain it and stick with it.

That is more of what it is about for me: being connected from shift to shift and maintaining it throughout the game.

Have you seen enough from John Tavares and William Nylander where you’ve seen enough progress to put them back together and know they will help themselves to get going?

Keefe: It is mainly Will. He is the driver of things. He is the transporter of the puck. He was skating the other day, and that is Will. I thought he had a good game.

Like a lot of other guys, they weren’t able to make that next play or that next piece happen to get anything substantial happening offensively, but he was definitely skating through the neutral zone. He had the puck a lot. He got us to good spots.

That is what John requires of him. From that end, it was positive. I thought John had a good game, too. He spent a lot of time in the offensive zone, but again, there was nothing to really show for it. Defensively, he didn’t give up much and was in the offensive end.

Between Will and John both having positive games, it is a good time to get them back together.

There has been a lot of line shuffling from game to game. What impact do you think it has had on the team and contributed to some of the mixed results the team has had?

Keefe: I don’t think it has. In terms of the results we have seen, I don’t know… In the last two weeks, we have beaten New Jersey, Carolina, Edmonton, and took Colorado to a shootout. All of the best teams in the league we have fared pretty well against. To overthink anything too much wouldn’t be appropriate, I don’t think.

Again, we started the game [in New York] with an excellent first period. I think it is a little bit too easy to point to that. Individually, players need to stay with their game. I don’t think any of the changes that we have made are anything too foreign or uncommon. It has been really common linemates and pairs that we have gone with all the way through.

I don’t think we can point to that too much. Certainly, on defense, there has been some of that, but all of this is essentially a byproduct of losing O’Reilly. It is the reality that we are dealing with. As I mentioned, we have rallied at different times to compete against the best teams in the league and find ways to win games.

To point to anything like that when it doesn’t go well would be letting us off the hook too easily.

You pulled Mitch Marner and Auston Matthews aside during practice. Is that just a usual check-in or was there a specific message to those guys in terms of what you’re looking for going forward?

Keefe: I am looking for lots from those guys going forward, but obviously, what we talk about will stay between us. It is important that I check in with them and talk to them about what we are doing, what I am seeing, and what we need from them. They are two vital pieces of our team. We need them to thrive and feel good. I check in with those guys lots.

It is a distant thing, but with Nick Robertson back skating with the team, is it a positive sign that he is already back out there with the team?

Keefe: Yeah, it seems like he has responded well to surgery when I have bumped into him and we have chatted. He has a long road ahead of him.

We just kind of went through this with Carl Dahlstrom. You start feeling good, you get out on the ice, and it is still a long road to getting back to playing.

He is a young and important player for us. It is great to see him making progress, putting in the work, and all of those kinds of things. You never really question it for a guy like him. He is so committed. He has dealt with these kinds of situations before. He has had bad injuries he has had to find his way back from.

In this case, he is going to have a long period of time with training and such. He is a guy that will be an important player down the road for sure. We played some games recently here — against Carolina for instance — where we went back in one of the prescouts in a game with him and you can see the impact he made in that game.

You have kind of forgotten that he was a young player who was on the rise for us and had a tough injury to deal with here.