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

After Wednesday’s practice, head coach Sheldon Keefe discussed the injury status of Mitch Marner and Ilya Samsonov and singling out John Tavares and the leadership group after an ugly loss to the Devils.

Practice Attendance – Mar. 28


How did you address the team about the loss to New Jersey?

Keefe: I spoke to the team after the game last night when the game ended, which I normally don’t do after a loss. I felt it was needed. They had a pretty good sense of where I was at then.

We chatted. We had a meeting today about reframing things and recognizing the things that I didn’t like and the things I feel they shouldn’t like about last night. We press on.

After a night when you weren’t pleased with the performance, why did you switch from a practice to a skills day today?

Keefe: I don’t know if I would call it a skills day, but there are a couple of things. We were mindful of the fact that we just played three games in four nights. Quite frankly, we had a few players who I expected to be available for practice today who played last night and were not available to practice today. All of a sudden, our numbers were really light.

Many of the things I wanted to do today were not going to be possible with fewer people. I felt that if it was going to be more of a flowing type of practice, we can do it tomorrow morning and capitalize on the rest today.

Are you confident that some of the unexpected situations player health-wise will sort themselves out for tomorrow?

Keefe: Some will for sure. We think they just needed the day. For some, we will just have to see where we are at tomorrow both for guys that played last night and those who didn’t — Morgan specifically. We will just have to see where we are at tomorrow once a couple of things settle.

What is the outlook for Mitch Marner in the next few days?

Keefe: The hope or plan was to get him going to be able to practice on Friday. I do not expect him to be available or even in consideration to play this week, but he looked really good out there today.

His progress looks to be good. He is in a good place. We just have to continue to build him up.

It must be encouraging to see Ilya Samsonov in practice. Will he be an option for tomorrow?

Keefe: Yeah, seeing him in gear yesterday and a full day today was great. It would’ve been a full practice today had we chosen to practice, but it was kind of last minute. It was after 11 o’clock when I made the decision that we weren’t going to practice once we got a good sense of what the group was going to look like. It kind of changed his plan a little bit, but he still got a good workday in. That will continue into tomorrow for him.

He won’t play tomorrow, no.

Does that create a good opportunity for Joseph Woll to put the New Jersey game behind him quickly?

Keefe: Yeah, it is a good chance for him to get back in there. He had a really strong game in Carolina and then it was not as strong yesterday. The group in front of him made life much harder on him.

It is a good chance to get back in there after what happened last night. Also, Samsonov taking a little pause gives Joe a chance to get his workload up.

When a defenseman is playing a 2-on-1, do you have a hard and fast rule about taking away the pass or does it depend on the circumstances?

Keefe: This is one that has been debated for years in terms of the right play. The reality is that it has to be a read. There is different handedness of the players, different speeds of the players, and different depth of the players. The defenders have different skill sets; some are really good at laying out and denying a pass, and some are very poor at it and put themselves in bad spots.

It is difficult as it is. You have to be able to manage what works well for you. Each player has a different approach to it. Generally speaking, if you can put some pressure on the puck, you want to do that early and try to disrupt the pass as much as you can to buy the goalie time to get over.

Otherwise, you generally try to focus on doing the things that make it so you don’t face 2-on-1s. No matter how you like to defend a 2-on-1, the deck is stacked against you.

On the occasions when John Tavares has slipped, what have you noticed about the way he responds?

Keefe: He has been great and he will be great. I brought John up yesterday as I did in the room with the team because he is the leader and he has to set the tone for our group. Sometimes, it is part of his play, and sometimes, as a captain, it is about bringing the group back when others are slipping.

I really just added him to the list of our best players from last night. I was asked about William and Auston. Those guys are right with them. Those guys have to be the leaders of our group, especially when we have a number of leaders who didn’t play last night and were out of our group. Now, you are thin on experience.

Those guys all had tremendous first periods. Things were going really well for us, but when it starts to slide, instead of getting carried away with it, we have to bring it back, stick to structure, stick to a plan, and stick to our mindset going into the game.

We approached the game exactly the way we approached Edmonton. It is a different team, obviously, but there is a very similar ability to strike quickly on offense and make plays with top-end players. I thought we approached it well and capitalized on that mindset in the first period. It starts to go away from you after that.

As a coach, you are really leaning on your best and most experienced people to bring that back and get the group back on track. We failed to do it last night. That is on me and our leadership group.

Those are the kinds of things you hope are better at this time of year, but we slipped. We have been good in that regard for quite some time now. I suspect we will get it right back to where it needs to be tomorrow.

Are you surprised you had a slip so late in the season?

Keefe: It is the reality when you play 82 games. You are going to get a little bit of something all the time.

It is the time of year when you hope you don’t get these dips, but as I mentioned, it is not common that you play a game and get 25 shots on goal (in the first period). You are feeling great and everyone is going. It had been one of our best periods of the season offensively. Everyone is feeling it and thinks they are going to have a great night, but it starts to get away on you.

It is different. It is not normal. It wasn’t the NHL in the first period yesterday. It doesn’t happen all the time. It is a different night, and then you consider who we had out of the lineup in terms of leadership and ability. It is the recipe for some of those things to happen. It was our third game in four nights.

It doesn’t mean I am not going to bring it up to their attention and let them know we are not happy about it. You are trying to make sure it doesn’t happen again. Based on how our group has been over the last couple of months, I am expecting it won’t. We will press on.