Sheldon Keefe, Toronto Maple Leafs practice

Ahead of Saturday’s game in Buffalo, head coach Sheldon Keefe discussed Bobby McMann’s fit with John Tavares and William Nylander, the Knies – Holmberg – Robertson line, and the challenge against the Sabres.

Do you see some potential in the line of Pontus Holmberg, Matthew Knies, and Nick Robertson?

Keefe: They are three young guys who we think and hope will be in the organization for a long time. They are going to continue to build and grow.

What comes out of these situations when you have guys injured is that you try different things and work at different things. We have seen lots of positives in it.

Those are three players who are all trying to find their way in the league, but as they get more comfortable, I think there are great possibilities there. The skill sets match well. We have liked what we have seen from it.

The three guys will continue to grow. Who knows what the future holds, but when we get healthy, I don’t see it as a trio.

What have you seen from Bobby McMann since he moved higher up the lineup? How is the chemistry coming along with John Tavares and William Nylander?

Keefe: I have liked it a lot. It is important for Bobby to continue to do the things that he has been doing: driving play with his speed, keeping the defense honest by backing them off, winning pucks back for his linemates, doing a job defensively, and being a responsible F3 when it is his turn to do that.

We need him to stay on top of all of that stuff—the details of his game. He has been having a ton of success offensively and is doing a lot of little things well, too. We just need to make sure those details don’t slip.

What has clicked for the penalty kill in the last little while?

Keefe: We have put a lot of time into it. It is necessary to do so, obviously. The guys have just bought in. We have made some adjustments, and the guys have responded really well despite the lack of practice time. The early returns have been good, but it is a small sample at this point. We want to continue to build on it.

Is Marshall Rifai’s call-up just about bringing an extra body on the trip?

Keefe: Yeah, exactly. We were down to six defensemen. With the way things have been going, it is important to have an additional guy. He will be in warmups tonight.

There were many positives after the Leafs‘ win over Washington, but what are you emphasizing in a place (Buffalo) where it has been tricky for the Leafs to win in the past?

Keefe: Just continuing the same mindset. That is really what it is about.

We didn’t practice after the New Jersey game. We showed some clips. When we go out, it is a different mindset. It shows the team knows how to play and knows what we need to do. It is just about having the same type of mindset.

The opponent tonight is probably more like New Jersey and less like Washington. That in and of itself creates different challenges in terms of their skill set, ability to play in transition, and the pace they can bring from the defense.

We are going to be challenged in different ways than we were the other night. We are going to have to be that much more focused on it and be good on offense ourselves while making sure we are managing the puck really well. Play in the offensive zone and make it harder on their top people by forcing them to defend.

Given the 9-3 loss in Buffalo was such a one-off for the team, do you reference it with the team at all? 

Keefe: I mentioned it yesterday. That is a long time ago and a lot has changed since then, but it is a reminder of what this opponent is capable of and the type of skill that they have when you don’t play an organized game. You open up the possibility of something like that happening. It was just a reminder of that.

I don’t think we need to go too far into it. It is more about using it as an example of the chances we gave up and the type of game we played there. We gave up free offense. In those kinds of games, this team thrives.

If you look at it, whether it is New Jersey, Buffalo, or Columbus, there is a ton of skill on these teams. They are some of the best offensive teams in the NHL in terms of playmaking, controlled entries, and rush play. With the teams that are trying to find their way into the playoffs, you look at them as maybe teams you should be able to win against, but they make it really hard on you if you don’t play with detail, structure, and discipline in your game.

That is what is required no matter who you are playing against in the NHL, and certainly, in this last stretch, as we move into April and are looking to secure a playoff spot, it is exactly the mindset that is required.

Do you stress anything to the team when you are catching the opponent in the second half of a back-to-back?

Keefe: I didn’t bring it up today. Especially when it is a back-to-back where you are staying at home and don’t have to travel, I don’t think it is much of a factor at all. We are just focused on our own game for the most part.

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