Toronto Maple Leafs head coach Sheldon Keefe
Toronto Maple Leafs head coach Sheldon Keefe

Ahead of Saturday’s game against Buffalo, Sheldon Keefe discussed the lack of a physical response to the Brad Marchand-Timothy Liljegren incident in Boston, the call-up of defenseman Max Lajoie, and demoting Tyler Bertuzzi to the fourth line in the Bruins game.

Practice lines – Nov. 4

There was a lot of talk about physicality over the offseason. What did you make of the lack of physical response in the moment to Timothy Liljegren’s injury?

Keefe: I hated everything about it. I’ve addressed it.

What didn’t you like about it?

Keefe: Just the response. In the moment, some of the guys maybe don’t quite know what exactly has transpired. Sometimes it is hard to compute.

It is a game day here, and we are preparing for Buffalo. I am not going to get into it too much. It’s not what we want to be about. At times, we have responded very well in those situations in the past. It is about consistency, though.

We’ve addressed it.

How did the conversation about it start? Is it coach or player-driven?

Keefe: Both. The players and I talked about it in the intermission. We addressed it more since. It was an off day yesterday, but we spent a good portion of the morning on it today.

Ryan Reaves mentioned that if he was out there with Marchand, the response might’ve been different. What is the balance for you in terms of letting him do his thing but running the bench in a close game?

Keefe: To me, it is less about that… Brad Marchand does not care about Ryan Reaves or anybody else in the league. That is well-established. It is more about the team response.

There are a lot of other players who are wearing Bruins colours, and we can make life harder for them. It is more about an uplifting of our team.

Now, we came back in the hockey game. That is a response in and of itself. Matthews and Marner — that’s how they respond. They changed the game for us. I love that we have that ability and have shown it over and over again.

We showed it in the playoffs last year on the road in Tampa. We got slapped around a little bit, but we came back, Matthews scored two goals, and we came back and won the game and series.

We have shown that we can respond in different ways, but it is part of the game that we have to fully embrace. We have done it at times over the last number of seasons. We have shown these things to our guys and talked about it, but it is about consistency.

There are a lot of areas in our game where we are lacking consistency. Some nights, we are great at it. Other nights, we are not. We want to be the team that wants to accomplish great things. We have to find consistency.

What’s the key to success when missing important players from the blue line?

Keefe: Play better as a team, play harder as a team, and play tighter as a team. We went through this exact thing last season. It ended up kind of galvanizing our group. We had an unbelievable November. May as well do the same thing.

What do you know about Max Lajoie and his ability to step in?

Keefe: He moves pucks well. He has played in the league before. He and Lagesson spent some time together with the Marlies and a lot of time together throughout camp.

He and Lagesson both are guys who have played in the league before. That is positive. Lagesson has done a really good job for us coming in. We expect the same from Lajoie.

How does Tyler Bertuzzi become the player he’s capable of being and the one you thought you were signing in the offseason?

Keefe: Bert has been doing a lot of good things. The other night, there were a lot of circumstances happening in the game, and I was not very happy with our team at that point in time. He just happened to make the wrong mistake at the wrong time. He was the guy for that night.

To me, especially on the road trip, Bert was really starting to come. In response, in that third period, he had a couple of really good shifts and showed what we needed from him in terms of moving his feet and being engaged.

Bert is a very important player for us, will be a very important player for us, and will come through. The harder this gets, the better Bert is going to be.

Player comments on the Marchand-Liljegren incident 

Ryan Reaves on the lack of a response to the Marchand-Liljegren incident and whether it was due to the players maybe not seeing it in real-time:

We talked about it. We addressed it in the room. It will be changed moving forward.

[Not knowing what happened] might have been part of it. Still, when he skates by the bench, there could probably be a little more response there. Again, we talked about it. We will respond accordingly.

Reaves on his message to Marchand when they were jawing by the bench:

First of all, get away from the bench. Second of all, I guess he was lucky I wasn’t out on the ice with him. Fortunately, they had last change, so I didn’t get any shifts against him. It’s hockey.

Tyler Bertuzzi on laughing on the bench as Marchand skated by:

People can perceive that however they want. I am not going to explain myself.

John Tavares on the lack of response to Marchand in Boston and the team’s pledge to be better in those moments:

No doubt, we have a tight group in here. We talked about having a strong brotherhood during instances like that and how we have to stick together… No doubt, we discuss all the areas we want to be better in. That situation is one.