After Wednesday’s practice, Sheldon Keefe discussed snapping at Tyler Bertuzzi on the bench during the game against Florida, losing Mark Giordano to injury, and his team’s league-leading eighth too-many-men penalty.
Practice Lines – Nov. 28
Leafs are holding an optional skate in lieu of a full practice.
Players taking part:
— David Alter (@dalter) November 29, 2023
The incident on the bench where you were pretty fired up and shouting at the team, or at least Tyler Bertuzzi — what brought that out of you?
Keefe: It was just the mindset of our team at that moment. We had been talking a lot about recognizing moments and being good with our situational awareness. We had just scored to tie the game. We got a chance to go out and win the faceoff. We had the puck in full control, and we didn’t take care of it. We are back on our heels again.
That is a team mindset thing. Obviously, it was Bert in that instance, but there have been too many instances of that. Sometimes, you get emotional on the bench and you guys can see it. Oftentimes, it is behind closed doors and you don’t see it.
Regardless, it is an area we have to get better in. I have to do a better job of making them more aware or holding them accountable if it is not going to be the standard that is required. That certainly will be the case.
Keefe is going off, and rightfully so pic.twitter.com/EPNGYp5dmy
— Omar (@TicTacTOmar) November 29, 2023
Why can it be so difficult to avoid the lull after a goal?
Keefe: I think you get caught up in the emotion of the game at times. You are feeling good. Gregor scored a huge goal for us. The guys are really happy for him. 20 seconds later, the puck drops, and you are back in the moment again.
It is a focus. It is an awareness. It is the group being together. These things can’t come from the coaching staff all the time. It is the players on the ice that have to be aware. They have to go into the faceoff, know their responsibility, and know what they are looking to accomplish when the puck comes to them. What are we looking to do here?
For me, whether it is after a goal or at the start or end of periods, you want to be on the other team’s half of the ice. Put the puck into a safe space where that can happen. Sometimes it is with it on your stick. Sometimes it is not.
It is just about making the right decisions. It just so happened that it was Bert in that case, but Bert has played very, very well for us here. To me, it is a team mindset thing that we haven’t gotten right.
What can you tell us about Mark Giordano’s status with his hand injury?
Keefe: It is still being evaluated to determine the extent of the injury and how much time he will miss, but he is going to be unavailable for tomorrow (vs. Seattle) for sure and beyond that. We don’t know the extent of it.
How would you describe how Giordano’s absence will affect the team?
Keefe: It remains to be seen. We haven’t been without him very much since he has been here. It is leadership, experience, a guy who brings us everything he has, penalty-killing utility, and all of those kinds of things.
We already have injuries on defense, so we were already asking a lot of him and asking a lot of others, too. It will be even more so now. It is an opportunity for others to step up on defense and even more reason for our forwards to support our defense, which to me, they haven’t done a good enough job of.
Generally speaking, during your tenure, the forwards have supported the defense well. Why do you think it is slipping? Are players pushing for offense?
Keefe: I do see some of that. Again, it comes back to a mindset. It is a challenge. You have some top guys who aren’t feeling it and aren’t producing at the level they expected of themselves, so that becomes the focus.
It is what [the media] asks about every day. You don’t ask about how their forecheck has been, how they have defended, or how competitive they’ve been. You ask them why they haven’t scored.
Sometimes, it gets in your head. Let’s stay focused on the things that matter and the process that you put in place. To me, that has been the strength and backbone of our team for the last number of years. When you stray away from that or — in our case — you haven’t quite found it yet…
It could be a combination of a number of new players, injuries on defense, and some of our guys who are trying to find their game offensively. You end up being disconnected.
To me, it is just about focusing on what we can control with our process and our structure. I think everything else just falls into place. We have to get focused on that.
Would you consider splitting up Morgan Rielly and TJ Brodie to try to find some balance?
Keefe: We haven’t talked about that yet. Even in the last couple of games when we were down to five or even at other times, Van Ryn has been splitting them up to support some of the others at times throughout the game.
You are probably going to see a bunch of that, but generally speaking, it is one pairing that we have come to really rely on. We are going to need that to have a group that can settle things down for us.
Simon Benoit blocked a number of shots against Florida. Can William Lagesson give you some more defensive help as he returns to the lineup?
Keefe: Those guys have done a good job for us. They really have. They are tall guys with good reach. They are competitive. They get in the way. Whether it is five-on-five or penalty kill, both guys have given us lots of confidence in them.
We took Lagesson out last night, but I think he has done a really good job for us. As I said, we will be asking more of those guys now, but they have shown they can do a job for us. They have given us really good minutes and kept the puck out of our net when they were out there for the most part.
That is the most you can ask for from them.
At this point in the season, what goes into the decision of who starts in net?
Keefe: It is always different depending on what is going on with the schedule and the individuals.
In the case of our decision last night, we hadn’t played a lot of games. The guys have basically split their time. Coming up into a busier stretch of the schedule and coming back home, solely going off of last weekend, we liked Woll’s game better. For that reason, I went with him. That is really it.
That is sort of the message throughout the team: If you want to play more, play better.
Was the too-many-men call at the end of regulation against Florida a dicey one or a lack of focus?
Keefe: It is not too many men. If you look at it, Nylander is on the ice the entire time. He is eligible to receive a pass. Tavares is coming off the ice. Bertuzzi is eligible to change for him. It is a line change that happens hundreds of times a game.
In that case, to me, the official reacts to the situation and to the other team yelling. However, I look at it as more of an issue where we passed the puck to our bench unnecessarily. We are trying to make a line change. It creates chaos. Sometimes, officials make the wrong call because it looks like too many men when it is a legal line change happening with the puck arriving.
We have been caught on a couple of those that haven’t gone our way. If the officials look back on it, they will probably say they should’ve let that one go. Again, to me, it’s situational awareness to keep the puck away from our bench. We don’t need to make that play.
Can a game as weird as the win over Florida be a bit of a catalyst for the team?
Keefe: I think so. That’s the thing, right? You come out of the game, with eight minutes left in the first period, the shots were even. With five minutes left, it is still 0-0 and the shots are 8-7. It is quite even for the first 15 minutes in the first period, and then we just kind of sag and lose ourselves.
I thought we had a lot of good moments. We stood in there right with them the rest of the way through the second and third. The penalty kill was outstanding. The goaltending was outstanding. There were a lot of good things that happened in the game that allowed us to grind it out and find a way to get two points against a very good team.
There are a lot of encouraging things there, and yet, if you look at the number of games that have gone to overtime and shootout for us, it shows a couple of things. We have been unable to put teams away. Teams have also been unable to put us away. We are right there.
With a little bit better execution and fewer mistakes, all of a sudden, we are on the right side of these games. We are right there despite the fact that we haven’t put it all together yet. When it comes together, we are going to be on the right side of these things. We will get rolling.
We have turned past 20 games now. We have to make these things happen — now more than ever with the injuries we have on defense.