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

After Tuesday’s practice, Sheldon Keefe discussed the play of the team’s blue line through 48 games and Timothy Liljegren’s performance level this season.

Practice Lines – Feb. 6

What was your sense of where the energy levels were last night coming off of the break for the All-Star participants?

Keefe: I thought the guys played well and fought through any fatigue they may have been experiencing. Those guys played well and had lots of jump — maybe not as much as others as you could see the break really benefited someone like John (Tavares). But I also thought those guys had plenty of opportunities to win the game for us. They came through for us on the power play in the third period.

Quite honestly, it was not the same type of break that you would like them to have, but it is part of the deal, right? It is an honour to be an All-Star, particularly in our city, and there are a lot of other players in other cities going through the exact same thing.

I didn’t see it affect their game yesterday. Coming in today (for practice) is probably a lot for them, but I do think it is also important for us to get the team on the same page here. As difficult as it is because different players experienced different things with their break, we have to get the team going together on the same page in terms of their scheduling and being able to practice together.

Timothy Liljegren mentioned that he is battling within his game at the moment. What is the message to him as he works through it?

Keefe: The message is just to stay with it. Lily is a good player. He has played very well for us over his time here. Even last night, through the game, there were a number of good things he did for us in the game. It is more about focusing on those things and embracing those things.

He is a young guy who has taken big steps in his game over the last year. Coming into this season, there is an expectation all of a sudden. You are not just a young guy who is kind of finding his way. For us, he is an established NHL player who is looking to take on more. That hasn’t gone as well as he would’ve expected or we would’ve hoped, but that doesn’t mean that he is still not doing good things or isn’t capable of good things.

The other part of it is when you get injured, it doesn’t help. It disrupts momentum. It throws off rhythm. You have to get back up to speed. It is all part of being a player in the league. He took one step as a young player in terms of establishing himself, and now there is a little bit of adversity.

He is a good player for us. We will continue to encourage him, work with him, and get more from him. Even going and watching the game back last night, there are a number of really good things he does for us. We need to focus on those.

Liljegren took responsibility for the mistake on the Kyle MacLean goal. As you look at that sequence, are there other breakdowns that led to it, or is it mostly on him?

Keefe: There are a number of breakdowns on the entire power play in general. There are other pieces as well. There is recognizing where to put the puck late in the power play. There is recognizing where you are at in your shift.

I decided on that particular power play — it was about a minute into it — to keep our top guys out there. It was the third faceoff or stoppage of play within the first minute, so I thought our guys had some energy to stay out there. All of a sudden, you don’t break out, and now you are getting late in your shift. We didn’t get in, and we didn’t manage it well from there.

As a fresh defenseman coming on the ice, you have a responsibility for the guy coming out of the box and to know that. We didn’t manage that well, but there are certainly things there that everybody has to own, including myself.

There are tons of rumours out there about the team wanting to add a defenseman, but that is not your department. What is your level of confidence that over the next few weeks, you can get the whole blue line unit playing a little bit better and a little tighter?

Keefe: I do have confidence in that. I have been talking about it with you guys and the team. It is a matter of consistency for us. It is not about what we are capable of. It is what we can do consistently.

We have different players going through different things, but coming off of the break now with the final stretch coming up, you have to embrace what is ahead. It is a good time for our guys to really pull together.

Tre is going to do what managers do behind the scenes. He is always trying to make the team better. We have discussions every day about it, and yet — from my perspective — we have a good team here. We have good players.

As a coaching staff, we need to do a better job of helping them, working with them, and recognizing our own role in getting the team to play to its potential. I think we have done that in about 50% of the games. In about 50% of the games, we have been really good. That is not enough in the NHL.

All of a sudden, we are not scoring at the same level that we have in the last while. On a night like last night, some moments in the game really stand out and really hurt us, but if we score a little bit more, you are able to address those in meetings and in practice, and you kind of press on. You start talking about how it feels good to get a win coming off of the break. All of a sudden, you don’t score on some of your chances, a couple ring off the post, and now you are focused on other things.

I liked the process in the game last night. We out-chanced them pretty significantly. We had opportunities to score and didn’t take advantage of it. We made mistakes at critical times, which has been happening far too frequently. That is where we have to clean it up and do a much better job.

I thought we did good things in that area in the prior game in Winnipeg, but it was not the case last night even though we came back and tied the game.