Sheldon Keefe, playoff press conference
Sheldon Keefe, playoff press conference

Ahead of Game 6, Sheldon Keefe discussed Auston Matthews’ absence for a do-or-die game, the keys to improving the results on home ice, and the 1-for-17 power play through the first five games of the series.

Is there an update on Auston Matthews and Bobby McMann?

Keefe: Auston is not available tonight. Bobby is also not available, but as you are seeing, he is processing well.

What is the key to success tonight, in your view?

Keefe: Our approach to the game can’t change. It’s very clear how and when we have had success in this series, and how and when we haven’t. I thought we had a very clear picture of that coming back from the road after Game 2. We came back, and we didn’t execute that on home ice when we came back here. That is the biggest piece for us: coming out with the same mindset we brought to the road.

When asked about lineup changes, you have said you don’t want to overthink it a few times. Has that developed in your coaching style over the years, or is this playoff with Auston Matthews out a real challenge that makes you re-arrange things?

Keefe: It is a matter of reading off of your team, the situation, and the players themselves. Between Willy missing early on and then Auston missing, those are pretty significant pieces that make you have to move things around. It is more reading off of things.

We felt pretty strongly and confidently in the group and the plan coming in, and then all of a sudden, you lose Bobby McMann, Willy, and Auston. You have to change and adapt as you go.

You are constantly reading off of your players, the team, and the game itself. You make your decisions from there. As we saw all throughout the season, when we lost guys to injury or otherwise — or we changed the lines — the group has responded really well. We have a lot of versatile guys who can play in different spots, different positions, and flip from right wing to left wing. That has served us well in terms of being able to adapt to different situations.

William Nylander has now been back for a few games. What is your sense of his game and how close he is to top-level Willy?

Keefe: I thought he took some steps in that direction the other night. In his first game, he looked like a guy who was adjusting to the opponent, the playoffs, and getting himself back up and running. The other night, I thought he was far better in terms of moving his feet and creating chances. That is an encouraging sign.

He is looking for one to break and go his way. He had a breakaway off the crossbar. That is one that you would love to see fall for him. More importantly, it is just his overall game. We are going to need a big overall effort from him.

What is your sense of why you have had so much difficulty winning on home ice?

Keefe: As I have been alluding to, when we come in, our plan doesn’t change, and our approach doesn’t change, but our mindset seems to change. In particular, it is about staying with it and staying consistent with it. When I look at the games we have played here, in Game 3, we gave up three shots in the first 15 minutes. In that sense, it is a pretty similar game in terms of defense. We didn’t have much of an offensive push in that game, but we were doing a nice job defensively.

It is about maintaining that play and staying with it. When you have a plan coming in, you have to stay with it for a long period of time, which is what we did really well the other night. We weren’t fazed by whatever happened in the game. We played a great period. It was still 1-1. It didn’t make us change. We just stayed with it and stayed with it. We had to kill a penalty, and we got it done.

We haven’t done that to the same level on home ice. That has been not just a playoff trend but a regular-season trend for us. It is the same mindset. This is the best road team in Leafs history. We haven’t been able to replicate it on home ice, but we have earned ourselves another opportunity to get that right now.

Is it something that needs even to be addressed at this point? The players know the same numbers we know.

Keefe: We have addressed it and talked about it throughout the season, but now that you are playing the same opponent, the game plan and the approach are similar. It is a lot easier to drive home now. You have been through what has worked and what hasn’t. It is a mindset piece.

For me, it is less about where we are playing and what the situation is. It is mindset-based, and being able to stay with it no matter what the game is bringing. Just trust it and stay with it, and expect it to be difficult. Embrace it being difficult, and don’t feel the need to adapt our plan. We have had success in this series both in winning games and in carrying play even when we haven’t won games. When we have played to the way the plan is, we have made things really tough on Boston.

In the two games without Auston Matthews this season, they were two of the better performances from the team. How much are you vocalizing it to get them into the mindset of stepping up without him, or is it human nature that guys want to do more?

Keefe: It is a bit of the human nature piece. You recognize everybody has to be better. They’re two different types of games — one is regular season against Pittsburgh, and the team played really well but also filled the net. Everything seemed to go in the net that night. It is the opposite type of approach the other night. It is a discipline game. It is a consistency game. It is sticking with it, grinding it out, and finding a way to win a hockey game.

It is more about the confidence our team has that we can respond when players are out. In this series alone, we had no Willy in Game 1 or Game 2, but you still have to find a way to win a game on the road. If we don’t get that win, we are not even here talking.

That piece is important. We have confidence there. We can trust in the group. If anything, it shows the strength of the group and the importance of the group not looking to others but just doing your part, trusting that the group will find a way to prevail in the end.

What did you see from the power play in Game 5 without Auston Matthews? They seemed close to breaking through.

Keefe: It got us some of the looks that you want. John had at least two very clear, wide-open looks. Morgan had the wide-open one-timer, which is as great of a chance as you are going to get on a power play. You have to hope and trust that these will start to fall for us.

We spend a lot of time looking at the power play and things that we would like to do better. We’re looking for potential adjustments and such. You do that because you are always trying to refine it and get ahead of adjustments that the penalty kill might be making.

You are also examining your scoring chances during that process. How can you generate more of them? We deserve more power-play goals than we have had in this series. We have had some really, really good looks. The goalie has made saves, or we just haven’t converted in very tight on rebounds, empty nets, and those kinds of things.

The number starts to balloon and doesn’t look good. It has been a major factor in this series. We have no choice but to stay with it and do more of the things that we do well to find even more of those looks.

At some point, the guys have to put it over the line. It has been there for us. Right now, on the power play, we are right near the top of the league in terms of expected goals or scoring chances. We deserve to have more than we have gotten.

In the first three or four games of the series, we were leading the league in inner-slot shots on the power play. We are doing the things we need to do to score. It hasn’t gone over the line. We have to stay with it.

We have had three different iterations of the first unit through five games of this series. We have tried different things. We have made changes ourselves, or the lineup has required that we make some changes. It has given us some different looks that way. The guys have to stay with it, trust themselves, and put one over the line for us.