Ahead of Saturday’s game against Boston, Sheldon Keefe reflected on the Marchand-Liljegren incident from a month ago before discussing Auston Matthews’ dip in production and William Lagesson’s contributions with the Leafs this season.
Game Day Skate Lines – Dec. 2
Lines at Leafs skate
Knies – Matthews – Nylander
Bertuzzi – Tavares – Marner
Robertson – Domi – Jarnkrok
Gregor – Kampf – Reaves
Rielly – Brodie
Lagesson – McCabe
Benoit – Timmins
Host Bruins tonight @TSN_Edge
— Mark Masters (@markhmasters) December 2, 2023
How have you seen the team grow in terms of sticking up for one another since the last meeting with Boston and the Marchand-Liljegren incident?
Keefe: I think I talked about it a lot then. We have grown a lot in that area. That particular incident probably got more attention than it deserved, quite frankly.
Over the years, we have addressed those situations fine. At times, maybe not. I know everybody in here watches just our team for the most part, but if you turn on your TV, there are a lot of teams in the league that don’t blow up and sell the farm every single time someone gets hit. You have to play hockey, too.
This is a Boston team that commands a lot from you. You have to give everything you have in between the whistles to play well and put your attention there, first and foremost.
I think our team has done a good job of sticking together. That was a bit of a wake-up call for us, no question, in that area in terms of staying diligent with it, but that is the least of my worries going into a game like this.
What are the keys to dealing with Brad Marchand?
Keefe: You have to play hard against him. You can’t get preoccupied with things that don’t matter and focus on the things that do.
He is such a high-quality player that he can hurt you in a lot of different ways. He helps drive the rest of their team. If you get overconsumed with whatever he has going on, all of a sudden, Pastrnak is running free and doing his thing.
We just have to remain focused on our game, most importantly. If our game is in order, I think we have a really good opportunity to compete against anybody in the league. We have done a good job against teams that are above us in the standings for the most part through the season. We are going to need more of that.
Is there some “extra emotion” in this matchup after the meeting a month ago?
Keefe: I don’t think you can get extra emotion going into a game like this. We recognize we are playing against a very good team that is going to demand everything from us — everything that we have. That is what we are preparing for.
Auston Matthews hasn’t been quite as productive in this recent stretch, but what are you seeing on the whole? Is he doing what he needs to do to get chances?
Keefe: He has to do better in that area. That is just it. Don’t focus on the end result or concern yourself with anything but doing the things that allow you to have success individually and for us as a team most importantly.
Auston is a driver for our team. When he is going, we are going. That is usually the case.
Our overall team game, the structure, and the consistency with which we execute — we need Auston to drive in those areas. If that happens, whether he scores or not, we are in a really good place to control play and have a chance to win the game.
What is your sense of William Nylander’s game coming off of the Sweden trip? Has there been a bit of an emotional comedown or a dip with him?
Keefe: There has been a little bit of a dip for a lot of us. I don’t know. In Chicago, if that puck doesn’t hit all three posts and we win, he is a hero again in overtime. Who knows?
When things don’t go your way for a little bit, you start to question. Is it Sweden? Is it everything coming off of that? I don’t know.
I am just hopeful we are going to get a response today. Typically, Boston brings out the best in us.
What has allowed the penalty kill to come around?
Keefe: We have clearly put a lot of time into it. We also have had more consistency with our forwards and the pairs we have rolled out. When you have more consistency there, it is easier to have more accountability and all of that.
I think Benoit and Lagesson have done a really good job of helping us on the backend as well. If defensemen take penalties, then we are not as short as we have been in the past. We have more depth there.
Dean [Chynoweth] spent a lot of time sorting that out and working with it. We have committed both practice and video time — team time — to it. The players have responded.
With Joseph Woll starting a number in a row, how important is a start like this for him in a big divisional game on HNIC?
Keefe: He has done great. It is why you continue with him.
Definitely, coming back from Sweden, you are looking ahead to this segment of the schedule at home. It is somewhat of a playoff-type of rhythm where you are playing every second day. I had looked at it as if we would probably end up going with one guy. I didn’t quite know who it would be, but Woller had played really well in Pittsburgh. We gave him the nod to start the week. He hasn’t looked back.
It is a great sign for him and us. It is a Boston team on the other end that doesn’t give up very much, whether it is the team structure and defense or the goaltenders. It is a great opportunity for him to meet that head-on.
What have you seen from William Lagesson in the NHL so far?
Keefe: He has just done a good job. He has really minimized mistakes. He has played a fairly simple game but he has played hard. He has gotten in the way.
With him and Benoit, we have two guys who have come in with good size and have minimized mistakes, whether it is five-on-five or PK. Those guys have really helped us. It has been a really good development for us in this.
I don’t think either guy had a great training camp or preseason with us as they were adjusting to a new organization. Benoit had the injury. But both guys, since being called upon, have helped us and given us good minutes.