Keefe on Leafs drawing more calls than Panthers: 'We're getting hit in the head a lot'
TSN SportsCentre Reporter Mark Masters reports on the Toronto Maple Leafs. The Maple Leafs practised at Ford Performance Centre on Saturday before flying to Florida.
The Leafs have had seven power plays in two games. The Panthers have had two and also scored on a delayed call. Florida coach Paul Maurice has highlighted that disparity in his media sessions. On Saturday, Sheldon Keefe was asked what his team is doing to earn more man-advantage opportunities.
"Well, we're getting hit in the head a lot so there's that," the Leafs coach said. "Listen, I think the officials are making the calls, you know, and there's a lot more out there too, but that's part of it."
On Thursday night, rookie Matthew Knies absorbed a hard hit from Matthew Tkachuk, who was called for charging. The Leafs left winger was later taken to the ice by Sam Bennett when the two players got tangled up behind the net. Knies sustained a concussion and is unlikely to return during the series. There was no call on the play.
Later in the game, Bennett received a minor penalty for cross checking Michael Bunting in the neck. Bennett was fined $5,000, the maximum allowed by the collective bargaining agreement, but not suspended. Was Bunting surprised?
"Nope," the left winger said. "I'm not really worried about it. The league made their decision and it is what it is and we move on. I'm not worried about that at all. I'm more focused on the game and the task ahead of us."
The Panthers led the NHL in minor penalties in the regular season. They again lead in that category in the playoffs. The Leafs want to make them pay more.
"We got to remain disciplined and smart," stressed Keefe. "[That] is a major key and theme coming into the series. We've done a good job with it. We got to continue to play through it and if opportunities come our way, we have to make good on them like we did to start the game. We have a chance to extend our lead in both the first and second periods and failed to do so."
Paul Maurice believes the #FlaPanthers need to outgrow their poor reputation with the officials: "We have just accepted the fact that we're going to be in the penalty box more than the opponent."— Chris Johnston (@reporterchris) May 3, 2023
The Leafs have converted on just one of their power-play chances in the series, but have generated 17 shots on 24 attempts in 5-on-4 play, per NaturalStatTrick.com.
Florida killed off only 69.3 per cent of Boston's chances in the first round. They allowed 11 man-advantage markers in the seven games.
"I find that Toronto's power play is almost more dynamic," Maurice said. "Boston's power play was incredibly effective but readable. They're going to run certain plays on you and you got to do a real good job to kill them and we couldn't. These guys are dynamic. They will change position. They will look off the most obvious next play so it's been a real challenge."
So, how is Florida surviving so far?
"It's the simple things," said Maurice. "We've won a few more faceoffs. We've blocked a few more shots and our goalie's been that good."
Sergei Bobrovsky has stopped 69 of 73 shots in the series.
The Panthers penalty kill ranked 23rd in the regular season (76 per cent). The Leafs power play was second overall (26 per cent). Toronto is clicking at 25 per cent in the playoffs.
Bunting has drawn two penalties in the series against Florida.
"They can do whatever they want," the Scarborough, Ont., native said. "I'll just keep playing my game."
Bunting was suspended three games for a head hit on Tampa Bay defenceman Erik Cernak in the opener of that series. He was then a healthy scratch in Game 5 against the Lightning. But since returning to the lineup, Bunting has not taken a penalty. He also scored in Game 1 against the Panthers.
"I like where my game's at right now," Bunting said. "Nothing is really fazing me. I'm just playing my game, playing hard and trying to create offence for my line and help this team win. So, I’m pretty happy with how I'm playing right now."
As for Bennett?
"He's been a player in this league for a while with skill and plays a hard game," Bunting said. "But, like I said, we're more worried about our game in here and worried about going to Florida and playing the way we know how to play."
William Nylander didn't score, but the winger was all over the ice in the third period on Thursday.
"He just took control there," said centre Ryan O'Reilly. "He keeps doing that he's going to put a lot in the net."
"I was skating," Nylander said. "Even second period too, had chances and stuff. I think those two periods had a lot of chances."
Nylander has fired 13 shots on net to lead the Leafs in the series. He's also hit a post and a crossbar.
"I felt pretty good in Game 1," he said. "Just got to keep sticking with it."
Nylander has gone six games without a goal and four games without a point, which matches his longest drought from the regular season.
"Look, that happens in games where their goalie is playing good and you're not scoring," Nylander said. "I mean, it happened for us against Tampa where they [weren't] scoring and Sammy [Ilya Samsonov] was standing on his head so I mean that's just the playoffs."
The Leafs have scored just two goals in each of the last four games, which is a big reason why they've lost three of those contests.
"Just keep doing what we're doing," said winger Mitch Marner, who is also without a goal in the last six outings. "We're getting our looks. We're getting our chances. We got to keep with it, stay with the positives, know we're doing the right thing and eventually we're going to get the result."
Others called for some tweaks to the attack.
"Maybe get some more guys in front," said Nylander. "We were doing a pretty good job of that against Tampa and getting tips and screens and stuff like that. That would be a factor and then winning pucks back on the forecheck and stuff like that."
"We all need a bit more," O'Reilly said. "You know, I think we can all make it a bit harder on him [Bobrovsky]. We have to get in his eyes more."
The Leafs also have faith that their stars will eventually cash on the clean looks they're getting.
"They will come," O'Reilly said before cracking a smile. "And if the don't that puts us in a rough spot. So, I'm confident in this group. We have great talent."
Auston Matthews, John Tavares, Marner and Nylander have combined for 42 shots, but have yet to score in the series.
"We know what kind of team we are and we're confident in that ability," said Marner. "We've had our looks offensively to score goals and it just hasn't gone in so we just have to stay with the same process and hope for a different result."
Matthews and Tavares have both hit the post in the series.
The Leafs could have won Game 2 with just two goals, but they made a couple costly mistakes early in the second period.
"Disappointing," Keefe said in the immediate aftermath of the defeat. "Baffling, frankly. We didn't make those mistakes one time in the last series."
It's been tricky adjusting to the Panthers.
"They've done a really good job on their forecheck," said Marner, who botched a break-out attempt with Matthews, which led to the game-winning goal on Thursday. "Sticks on pucks and not giving a whole lot of time to make plays. It's something we got to be better at is just making those quick plays and knowing when we can make them and when we can't."
Keefe sensed a bit of a letdown after his team finally got over the hump and won a series. This two-day break before Game 3 in Florida will allow the team to ramp back up.
"Taking a breath and a chance to regroup," Keefe said. "We'll get our head and mentality right to get on the road and accept the challenge. For us, it's healthy to have a breath here right now."
The Leafs can also draw confidence from the fact they've outshot the Panthers 73-57.
"The good thing is we know what it looks like when we are doing well," noted O'Reilly. "We take control of the game and have pace and are making good plays. It's just being more consistent with that and limiting those little lapses."
A change of scenery may help. The Leafs are 1-4 at home in the playoffs, but 3-0 on the road.
"There's less distractions on the road in terms of different obligations that everybody has when you leave the building," said Keefe. "When you leave the arena on the road you're with your teammates, you're back to your hotel, you're resting. It's a very controlled environment. It's not necessarily like that every year, but I do think there are advantages to being on the road and certainly we felt that last series ... Everything about being on the road this time of year is simpler. It's how you play, perhaps, maybe that's going to be a little bit simpler and you just focus on just getting the win and that's absolutely it. Even though that is your mentality always, it's easier to have it on the road."
The Leafs also expect to have a lot of support inside FLA Live Arena.
"I've been to Florida when I was younger and it's all Toronto fans down there," Marner said. "I mean, everyone lives down there when the wintertime comes so I'm sure a lot of people still have U.S. residencies."
"I've heard some people downtown that are heading down to watch the game," added Nylander with a smile. "So I think it'll be fun to see some Toronto fans there."
Paul Maurice says the Leafs will be well represented in Sunrise. Just walking around he sees plenty of Ontario plates. ‘Canada lives in my neighborhood.’— George Richards (@GeorgeRichards) May 5, 2023
Mark Giordano, 39, was on the ice for another goal against on Thursday. He's now minus-seven in the playoffs, which is tied for the worst mark on the team.
"Gio's a veteran," said Keefe. "He knows how to take care of himself and how to handle his game. Obviously the pace of play has been significant here in both series and the competitiveness and the quality forechecks we've seen. It doesn't make it easy on any of our defence. There's been a lot of our guys who have had some tough times with that. Gio's just got to stay with it and remain confident in who he is."
It appears Keefe is contemplating a change on defence for Game 3. Erik Gustafsson took Giordano's spot as the quarterback of the second power play unit at practice. Gustafsson has played once in the playoffs. He was in the lineup for Game 6 in Tampa when the Leafs dressed seven defencemen.
Giordano continued to skate alongside Timothy Liljegren, who has been his partner in the last three games.
Justin Holl, who has been a healthy scratch in three straight games, skated alongside Gustafsson.
Samsonov showed signs of frustration during practice. He slammed his stick on the crossbar after allowing a goal and later broke his stick with his skate.
At one point, Samsonov spent time on the bench where goalie coach Curtis Sanford put his arm around him and appeared to be offering some words of encouragement. Reporters couldn't see Samsonov's face at this time, because Giordano stood right in front of the goalie at the bench.
Samsonov has allowed seven goals on 57 shots in the series. The goal by Aleksander Barkov on Thursday seemed like a shot Samsonov should've stopped.
"I didn't see the shot," he explained on Thursday night.
Samsonov did not do any interviews on Saturday.
Lines at Saturday's practice:
Bunting - Matthews - Marner
Jarnkrok - Tavares - Nylander
Kerfoot - O’Reilly - Acciari
Aston-Reese - Kampf - Lafferty
Rielly - Schenn
McCabe - Brodie
Giordano - Liljegren
Gustafsson - Holl
Power play units at Sunday's practice:
Flanks: Matthews, Marner
Net front: Tavares
Flanks: Nylander, Jarnkrok
Net front: Bunting