Perhaps Toronto Maple Leafs’ head coach believes his team could use a morale boost during this tough stretch of the 2021-22 regular season and is trying to put a positive spin on a 4-1 loss to the Carolina Hurricanes on Monday night. If so, I don’t doubt the team needs to consider something positive about their last three games.
However, will what Keefe said actually help his team break out of their early-season funk? Or, is he accidentally revealing something he believes might be the case? Might he be suggesting that this Maple Leafs’ team might not be good enough to compete for the Stanley Cup this season?
There’s No Upside in Critiquing One’s Own Team Publicly
I get it that an NHL head coach shouldn’t critique his team publicly. There’s a good chance such critique would come back to haunt you and would hurt the team. But the positive spin that coach Keefe put on Monday night’s 4-1 loss to the Carolina Hurricanes wasn’t the same game I was watching.
I can only assume he’s putting a positive spin on a poorly played game because he believes his players feel bad enough already. Or, might there be something more underneath what Keefe is saying?
The Maple Leafs Have Played Poorly, There’s No Doubt About It, But …
After that loss to Carolina on Monday, the Maple Leafs have now lost four games in a row and have a record of 2-4-1 on the season. In the last two games, the Maple Leafs have given up 11 goals and scored only two. And, two goals for this team – with what should be a strong offensive unit – is more than a little embarrassing.
Auston Matthews led the NHL last season in goal scoring. Mitch Marner was fourth in NHL points. John Tavares and William Nylander were close to point-a-game players. That’s a winning combination, isn’t it?
What Did Keefe Say About the 4-1 Maple Leafs’ Loss to the Hurricanes?
Keefe didn’t have much good to say at all about the 7-1 loss to an undermanned Pittsburgh Penguins’ team. Really, there was little good to say. However, when it came to the Hurricanes’ game, Keefe seemed able to find some positives in the 4-1 loss.
Specifically, Keefe noted that “I thought our guys competed at a much higher level. Unfortunately, it’s still not high enough. (The Hurricanes) set the standard, really in the league, in that regard. We got a real sense of what a Stanley-Cup contending team looks and feels like. Our guys had to deal with that all the way through.”
Keefe’s last note was “I think we leave here a better team.”
A Better Team than What?
I’m assuming that Keefe is saying that his team played better during the Hurricanes’ game than they played against the Penguins. It’s true that they did. It would have been hard for them to play worse.
Still, the team couldn’t put a game together that challenged the Hurricanes. And, Keefe admitted as much. That’s where things get a bit murky. In saying how good the Hurricanes were, he seemed to admit that his own team wasn’t nearly as good and couldn’t rise to the standard as a Stanley Cup contender.
Keefe noted, “I thought our guys fought all the way through it. We made mistakes that resulted in us getting scored on. They didn’t make those mistakes. At times, we gave too easy access to our net with guys getting behind our defense. We didn’t get the same level of access to their net.”
In his comments, Keefe made a list of all the things his team couldn’t (or didn’t) do that the Hurricanes could. These include: (a) they didn’t make mistakes, (b) they got to the Maple Leafs’ net often, and (c) they got behind the defense. In short, Keefe listed how much better the Hurricanes were than the team he coached.
The Hurricanes Are a Stanley Cup Contending Team. Are the Maple Leafs?
Finally, Keefe noted that the Hurricanes were a Stanley Cup contending team, which is why his team had trouble keeping up with them. By implication, he seemed to be saying that his team wasn’t up to that standard. That seems surprising.
I thought the Maple Leafs should be loaded. Keefe can ice players like Matthews, Marner, Tavares, Nylander, Jake Muzzin, Morgan Rielly, and others. Furthermore, in addition to the skill level of this core of forwards and defensemen, they’ve been playing together for a few seasons now.
It seems strange that Keefe doesn’t seem surprised his team couldn’t keep up with the Hurricanes. I was surprised they couldn’t. That’s why I ask the question: How good does Keefe believe his team really is?
If he thought they were a strong team, wouldn’t he expect them to be able to match play with a team he believes is a Stanley Cup contender?
Or, am I reading what he said totally wrong?
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