Sheldon Keefe: “After 42 games I still have questions about who I can rely upon”

Photo credit:Steven Ellis/Daily Faceoff
Alex Hobson
1 month ago
The Toronto Maple Leafs have had a few forgettable moments this season, but things have been especially dire in the past eight days. 
Heading into a tilt with the Calgary Flames tonight, the Leafs have lost four straight games, three of which they held a two-goal lead in at one point. They’ve blown leads in five of their last seven losses, indicating that their recent struggles are largely self-inflicted and not a matter of being outplayed by the other team. 
Following the latest performance, one that saw them allow the game-winning goal with just over three minutes to go in the game, head coach Sheldon Keefe held a small press conference with a handful of reporters. A full practice was originally scheduled for yesterday, which was then cancelled, and then revised to an optional practice. Simon Benoit was the only player who played in Edmonton to attend. 
Following the skate, Keefe expressed his concern with the status of the team right now.
“Who are we going to rely on in those moments? Who’s going to go out and get the job done? 42 games in, I still have a lot of questions, quite honestly, about who is going to go out and you can say for certain is going to get the job done.”
There are a few different ways you can take this quote. The first and most obvious one is that it’s a challenge to his players. You can say what you want about the roster turnover this offseason, but the Leafs’ foundation is still in place, led by the same core players. While they did get worse defensively as a group, blowing leads isn’t a new development. They’ve had issues with this for years now. 
Another way you can take it is in the form of a cry for help to Brad Treliving. Players such as Alex Kerfoot and Justin Holl, both of whom were relied on heavily for the penalty kill and in defensive situations, departed the team this offseason. The players who came in to replace them haven’t filled that void. Ryan Reaves and John Klingberg are both hurt and while Max Domi and Tyler Bertuzzi have both had their moments away from the puck, they’re nowhere near capable of replacing what Keefe’s old favourite toys could do. That’s not to say they haven’t contributed in a positive way, but you’re not putting Domi on the ice with two minutes left to protect a lead. 
Keefe went on to reaffirm his belief in the group, sneaking dashes of praise within criticisms. 
“As much as things are intense and the pressure rises in those critical moments, it’s still the same game they played in the early periods to get those leads and be in control. It’s there. It’s on us. It’s on me to continually remind them of that, but push them at the same time to find their way through this.”
The temperature is starting to rise in Toronto. While they’ve always been touted as a strong regular season team that can get to the playoffs with ease, that’s not exactly the story in 2023-24. The Leafs are 21-13-8, sitting at an even .500, and currently sit in a wildcard position after the Detroit Red Wings’ overtime win over the Florida Panthers. They’re one point up on the Tampa Bay Lightning for the first of two wildcard spots with two games in hand, but there are currently three teams on the outside looking in who sit only two points behind them. Suffice to say, the Leafs don’t exactly have time on their side. 
Be that as it may, Keefe is still looking at each game as a new opportunity to right their wrongs. They held a lengthy meeting at their hotel in Calgary, going over game film and focusing on the things they did right in recent losses in an effort to get them back on track. 
“Put the dagger in the opposition when you have a chance and a more dialed-in defence when the heat gets cranked and the opponent is pressing hard.”

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