Sheldon Keefe on Mitch Marner coming off the bench in Anaheim to bust a stick: ‘I have no problem with that…Guys have to have outlets’

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Sheldon Keefe, Toronto Maple Leafs
Sheldon Keefe, head coach of the Toronto Maple Leafs

After practice on Tuesday, head coach Sheldon Keefe discussed the recall of center Pontus Holmberg from the Marlies, the average start of the team in 4-4-2, the heat the team is facing in the market and Matt Murray’s progress towards a comeback.

Practice Lines – November 1

What was your message to the band today?

Keefe: Just that it’s nice to be home. The calendar turns to November. We have another opportunity to get back on the ice at home and a chance to improve in practice today. Let’s get to work.

How surprising is it that the team is where it is at 10 games?

Keefe: It is surprising. The expectations that I had for the team and that everyone has for themselves are much higher than what we have achieved so far. That said, it’s 10 games. We have a lot of hockey left to play. Let’s just focus on tomorrow.

What’s the key to getting the team to turn around and start racking up the wins?

Keefe: There are many areas of our game that we can improve. In fact, when you talk about our starts and the results we’ve had, I think the points we’ve been able to rack up so far are probably even more than I expected based on how well we we played, frankly. It speaks to the ability and talent we have as a group.

My only goal is to make our team play better. One area where we can improve the most is how we are connected and how we perform as a group getting out of our zone, crossing the neutral zone and attacking from there.

I thought we were on track for that in Anaheim just in terms of puck play. Our first half, especially the first 10 minutes, was really representative of what I think we can look like. We haven’t been able to sustain that, but that’s definitely what we want to do tomorrow.

Is that why you had a back-to-basics practice focused on passing outs and cycling forwards?

Keefe: That’s really it. On the skill development side, that’s sort of our approach anyway before we get to practice. It is, in many ways, our introduction or warm-up to the practice. We like to cut to the chase.

There are a lot of fundamentals that we’re not performing at a high level right now – some of the things that we expect to be really good at. It’s as simple as going out, being available for each other, and being responsible for your touch and your pass. That was really the focus of the day: to be good at it and get us attacked.

When you sat Mitch Marner down for a shift, what was the message you were trying to get across? Is there any risk in doing this stuff or public discipline?

Keefe: As a coach, you make a lot of decisions during the game. Sometimes you try to send a message to the player. Sometimes you try to send a message to the whole team. Every situation is different.

I thought, at that time, that I was already looking for a way to offer Denis Malgin an extra shift here or there. It was an easy way to give Mitch time to process things knowing full well that you’re going to bring him back immediately.

These decisions are made all the time with many of our players. It’s not the first time for Mitch and it really doesn’t matter.

Did you have a problem with him coming off the bench to break a stick in that situation?

Keefe: Nope. Guys need to have outlets and do what they need to do while they work on things. You need to have guys ready when the game starts. Mitch was. I have no problem with that kind of stuff.

The best thing for us: Today is a new day and a new month. We’ve completed the first 10-game segment here, and we’ll get back to work tomorrow. It was a good day of training today. The energy of the guys was good which is what concerns you the most at this time of year with what you go through coming back from the road trip – how was it, how long was it, the change of hour, and all that kind of stuff.

The energy of the group was very good today. It gives me even more confidence for tomorrow.

When things aren’t going well, a lot of the focus is naturally on the coach. With a frustrated fanbase and a frustrated city, that’s the kind of thing being said right now. Do you think you should be faced with some of these questions?

Keefe: The only thing I feel is that I have a job to do with the team. My job is to prepare the group for tomorrow and have a good day today. That’s absolutely my goal: to focus on my team, play better as a group and prepare for the Philadelphia Flyers. That’s really it. We talked about it and focused on it today.

What is the thought behind Pontus Holmberg’s arrival at the big club?

Keefe: We were really excited about the camp he had. With the numbers and the cap and everything, we didn’t have room for him to come in. We wanted to try different guys in the middle.

Obviously, we tried different people throughout this center ice road trip. We liked the idea of ​​having a natural center. He had a very good camp for us. We love a lot of things about him.

He went down to the Marlies, and all reports are that it was excellent for him there. He’s not a high-pace scoring guy, but he does a lot of things that contribute to winning. We are happy to have it.

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

Keefe: He is progressing well. It’s part of his plan. Today was the scheduled day. He met and stayed on this schedule. From that side, I think he is doing well. I didn’t get a chance to talk to him—and he wasn’t on the trip—but I know that was the plan. It looks like things went well there. He will just continue his process. I think it is still far enough.

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