Maple Leafs coach clears air with players after critical comments

TORONTO — Sheldon Keefe met with some of the Toronto Maple Leafs during practice Wednesday to clarify his comments that followed a 4-2 loss to the Arizona Coyotes on Monday.

“I used some of the wrong words to try to describe what I was trying to describe, which was that the difference in the game I find was we weren’t able to produce, whether it was power play or 5-on-5,” the Maple Leafs coach said. “That’s really the difference with all the puck time we had but by no means was I meaning anything beyond that, which was what I wanted them to be sure of. It was important they knew where I was coming from.”

“I’m glad I did it because they didn’t know what I was talking about, so it helped them prepare to deal with you guys (the media) today.”

The Maple Leafs (2-2-0) host the Dallas Stars on Thursday (7 p.m. ET; SNO, BSSW, ESPN+, SN NOW), two days after their second loss in four games to start the season.

“Our best people have not found their rhythm,” Keefe said Monday. “The difference between us and Arizona is we have elite players. Our elite players didn’t play like elite players today, couldn’t make a difference, so in that sense the game is going to be close.”

Video: Gostisbehere propels Coyotes past Maple Leafs in win

Keefe said the Maple Leafs had the puck 75 to 80 percent of the time in the first and third period but were unable to take control of the game. They were 1-for-5 with the man-advantage and allowed two power-play goals.  

“I talked to him today,” forward Mitchell Marner said. “He explained what he meant to say and how it came out and everything like that. I’ll leave it at that. We have closed doors here for a reason and we have talks without you guys for a reason. We had that talk today, we understand, we’re grown men.

“That’s part of this game is to talk to one another and explain what you meant. I don’t think anyone was hurt by the comments or anything like that. It was the leadership guys. I don’t know who else he talked to, but he talked to me for sure. It’s all good.”

Auston Matthews said he wasn’t bothered by the remarks.

“What’s said in the media and what’s said behind these doors is maybe different than how it’s interpreted in the media,” Matthews said. “This is my seventh year here now and I kind of understand how it works now. The conversations that go on behind closed doors without media are more generally discussions and communications than harping on guys.”

It was not the first time that Keefe was critical with postgame comments; he said he thought the Maple Leafs “hung (goalie Matt) Murray out to dry” following a 4-3 season-opening loss to the Montreal Canadiens on Oct. 12.

“I think we should always be cognizant of the words we are using and how we are communicating,” Keefe said. “At times emotions get the best of us in this game or in any competitive environment. You want to communicate well. That’s an important piece as a leader.”

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