“I have no issues with it… Guys have to have outlets”

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Sheldon Keefe is the Toronto Maple Leafs head coach

Sheldon Keefe, head Coach, discussed Tuesday’s practice with the Marlies about Pontus Holmberg’s recall. the team’s middling 4-4-2 start, the heat the team is facing in the market, and Matt Murray’s progress toward a return.


Practice Lines – November 1


What was your message to this group today?

Keefe: Just that it’s nice to be home. The calendar now turns to November. This is a new opportunity to get back on the ice at home and to improve our practice. Let’s get to work.

It is not surprising that the team is where they are after 10 games.

KeefeIt is quite surprising. I had high expectations for the team and for everyone. They are higher than what we have achieved so far. It is still 10 games. There is still a lot of hockey to play. Let’s just focus on tomorrow.

What is the key to a team that can turn the tide and start accumulating wins?

Keefe: We have a lot of areas that we can improve upon. Actually, I believe that the points we have been capable of accumulating are more than I would have expected based on our performance. This speaks volumes about the talent and ability we share as a team.

My sole focus is to improve the performance of our team. We can improve our team’s connection and our ability to execute as a group, coming out of our zones, getting through the neutral zone and then going on the attack.

Anaheim was on the right track in terms our play with hockey. Our first period, particularly the first 10 minutes, was a good example of what I believe we can look like. We weren’t able to sustain that, but certainly, it’s what we want to get to tomorrow.

Is this why you had a back to basics practice with a focus of outlet passes and forward riding?

Keefe: That’s all. It is a part of our skills development approach before we move into practice. In many ways, it is our warm-up or lead-in to practice. We love to get to the point.

There are a lot of fundamentals that we are not executing at a high level right now — some of the things that we expect to be really good in. It’s as simple as breaking out, being available for one another, and being responsible for your touch and your pass. This was the main point of the day: get good in that area and get us on the offensive.

What message were you trying to convey when you sat down with Mitch Marner during a shift? Is there a danger when you do this kind of thing? Or is it public discipline? 

KeefeAs a coach, there are many decisions that you have to make as you play the game. Sometimes you want to send a message. Sometimes you want to send a message across the entire team. Every situation is unique.

I thought at the time that I was already looking for a way of getting Denis Malgin an additional shift or two. It was a good way to give Mitch some time to process things, knowing full well that he will be right back at it.

These decisions are made with many of our players all the time. This isn’t the first time Mitch has done it, and it’s not a major deal.

Did you have any problems with him leaving the bench to smash sticks in that situation?

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Keefe: No. The guys must have outlets and do what they have to while they work through the issues. It is important to have your guys ready for the game. Mitch was. I have no problems with that kind of stuff.

The best part for us is that today is a new day, and a new month. We got through the first 10-game segment here, and we’ll get back to work tomorrow. It was a great day of practice. The guys’ energy was good, which is the thing you are most concerned about at this time of year with what you are going through coming back from the road trip — how it went, how long it was, the time change, and all of those kinds of things.

The group’s energy was great today. This gives me more confidence for tomorrow.

When things aren’t going well, a lot of the attention is naturally on the coach. These are the things that are being discussed right now with a frustrated fanbase and a frustrated community. Do you feel that you should be asking those questions?

Keefe: I don’t feel anything about it except that I have a job to perform with the team. My job is to prepare the team for tomorrow and have a great day today. This is my absolute focus: to concentrate on my team, playing better together, and getting ready for the Philadelphia Flyers. That is it. We discussed it and stayed focused on it today.

Pontus Holmberg’s entry into the big club is what was the reasoning?

Keefe: We were so excited about the camp he had. With the numbers and the cap and things, we didn’t have the space for him coming in. We wanted to try other guys in our middle.

We tried many people during that road trip at the center ice. We liked the idea to have a natural center coming into our camp. He was a wonderful camper for us. We love many things about him.

He has been to the Marlies and all reports indicate that he has been a great player there. Although he doesn’t score very often, he does many things which contribute to winning. We are grateful to have him.

How is Matt Murray doing? He was back on the ice.

Keefe: He is making great progress. It is part of his plan. Today was the day it was scheduled. He has adhered to the schedule. I believe he is doing well from that point. I haven’t had a chance to talk to him — and he wasn’t on the trip — but I know that was the plan. It appears that things are going well. He will continue his work. He is still a long way off, I believe.

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