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VANCOUVER — It was an ‘uh-oh’ moment you could sense all the way back to Toronto.
When the St. Louis Blues cut the lead to 5-2 with plenty of time remaining in the third period on Saturday, viewers scanned the bench during the timeout for Leafs either squeezing their sticks, moping, or to see a fuming staffer. What they got was a measured pep talk by Sheldon Keefe — and no more goals against beyond that point.
“I’m trying to find as many teachable moments as I can,” said Keefe, who takes a record of 5-3 as Mike Babcock’s replacement into Tuesday’s game against the Canucks. “That was a chance to settle the team down, talk about things from the intermission that they weren’t bringing to the ice, a chance to re-set a bit.
“There’s a lot of things that go into (calling time), the whole part of stalling the other team’s momentum for a bit. It’s tough to leave it in your pocket when you walk off the bench at the end of the game when you could’ve used it. I want to be a little more pro-active.”
Defenceman Travis Dermott said Keefe’s delivery was subtle, but effective.
“A few words, nothing dramatic. He tries to keep everyone calm. When we get too worked up, we start to get running around and not focusing on what we have to do before expanding the offence,” Dermott said.
Dermott had already received some counsel in that game from Frederik Andersen who hooked him with his goal stick to yank him out of a post-whistle crease scrum after some indecision on the youngster’s part made him freeze the puck.
“I’ve played with Freddy a little bit now, but we’re still figuring each other out,” Dermott agreed. “He pulled me back because I was coming back, their guy was comin’ in hard and he wanted me to go to the corner so if he did want to play it, he had an option. You learn those things over time, but words work quickest. A little pointer here or there, it’s getting a feel for each other.”
B.C. BOYS ARE BACK
Morgan Rielly had a good term for it — “geographical chemistry.”
That’s what he and new defence partner Tyson Barrie have going in a timely visit to their home province. The two, with centre Alex Kerfoot and winger Nic Petan, make up the most sizeable B.C. contingent the Leafs have brought out here in years, not counting assistant general manager Laurence Gilman and scouting operations director Reid Mitchell.
“We know each other from before (he and Barrie were WHL foes and casual off-season friends),” Rielly said. “Play the game like you can, use instincts and go up when you can. When it’s not (there), you don’t. It’s different (than last year with Ron Hainsey and up to last week with Cody Ceci), though Jake Gardiner was a gambler.”
Added Barrie: “We’ve enjoyed our two games together. Maybe we can take it to the next level being back home.”
Keefe said it’s “definitely my intention” to get ice time up for top-six forwards such as Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner and William Nylander.
“Those are great players you think have the ability to make a real difference for us,” said Keefe after Babcock measured their minutes more closely. “Some of the games where they’ve played a bit less are ones that have been in hand for us and we’ve used our bench more. We want to play with the lead as much as we can and those guys give us the best chance. We want to get them involved, especially early.”
Among former Leafs and Canucks mingling on Monday at Rogers Arena where both teams practiced was Josh Leivo, coming to the glass to chat with former Toronto teammates. A couple of them were going out to dinner with him.
With two goals on Saturday against Buffalo, Leivo is up to 16 points in 30 games and been hot lately for the Canucks. Nylander’s signing last Dec. 1 led to a Leivo trade two days later for forward Michael Carcone, whom Toronto didn’t re-sign. It ended six years of trying to break in with his draft team.
“It was a skilled lineup, I wasn’t getting the most opportunity there, but got to play a bit, got my feet wet and kind of got ready to play on another team,” Leivo said. “I’m trying to make the most of it. The line I’m with (with centre Bo Horvat and fellow Tanner Pearson), we’re getting behind guys and creating offence.”
Leivo was coached by Babcock and with the Marlies under Keefe.
He called life under the former “up and down … but I’ve had a tough coach almost (everywhere). He was hard on me, it just didn’t work out there and I’m fortunate it has here.”
Andersen starts tomorrow, but Keefe still wants Michael Hutchinson in a game on this trip … Peterborough Petes’ Nick Robertson, the 53rd pick overall and Toronto’s first selection in last year’s draft, has been named to the U.S, roster for the world junior championship. “It’s a good step for him and very well deserved,” said Keefe, who became acquainted with Robertson at development, rookie tournament and main Leafs’ camp. “I saw him at a Marlies game a while back and I know it was important to him to be rolling for (the WJC)” … Tyler Myers, the Canucks’ 6-foot-8 defenceman, doesn’t look up to many players, but 6-foot-9 Zdeno Chara is one. Myers was asked about the Bruin behemoth getting tributes in various rinks after 20-plus NHL seasons and nearing retirement. “He’s going down as a legend in my eyes. I tried to watch his game, find out how he used his size and reach. He’s done it a very long time.”
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