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Maple Leafs' Keefe Clarifies 'Soft and Purposeless' Comments and Reaffirms 'Belief in the Team'

After describing his team as 'soft and purposeless' following a 6-3 loss to the New York Rangers on Wednesday, Toronto Maple Leafs head coach Sheldon Keefe addressed those comments while saying his belief in the group hasn't changed.

EAST MEADOW, N.Y. -- The comments were unlike anything Sheldon Keefe used when assessing his team in the past.

Following a 6-3 loss to the New York Rangers on Wednesday, the Toronto Maple Leafs coach described his team's play in the second and third periods as 'soft and purposeless'.

On Friday, Keefe opened up his daily availability with the media by clarifying those comments before taking any questions.

"My belief in this team hasn't changed in any way. It's just a fact that our standards slipped the other night with the lead in the second and third periods and we can't win by playing that way," Keefe said. "I believe we've earned the right through how we've played and the type of players that we have and I know what we're capable of as a team.

"So we've earned the right to have high expectations and high standards around here. Continue to push and challenge our team towards those standards. Really, that was what I was getting at the other night."

Perhaps there was a bit of damage control to Keefe's comments on Friday as the team has been mired in a bit of a funk as of late. 

Since embarking on the current road trip (which included a brief respite at home for a couple of days of practice) the Leafs have just one win in regulation time, a 6-5 win against the St. Louis Blues. In all five games, the Leafs have squandered multi-goal leads. 

Things came to a head when the Leafs gave up a 3-1 lead to the Rangers after the first period and he didn't like the lack that his team sat back after scoring early in the contest.

"I don't think he's wrong," Leafs defenseman Morgan Rielly said of Keefe's claim. "If you look at the goals we gave up, they're kind of D-zone issues where we're allowing too much traffic at our net and we're exposing our net too much. I think as a D-core, you have to take the responsibility of being hard to play against."

When he watched the film of the game again, Keefe felt his third line, consisting of David Kampf, Pierre Engvall and Ilya Mikheyev, stood out while the other three lines left something to desired.

Following practice, Keefe spent some one-on-one time with forwards William Nylander, John Tavares and Alexander Kerfoot.

"We're all kind of trying to work together just to get better and challenge each other," Tavares said. "Especially lately since we haven't been as consistent as we want to be."

The Leafs kept the top three forward lines at practice together. Joey Anderson moved up to the fourth line to replace Kyle Clifford. And Carl Dahlstrom appears set to make his Maple Leafs debut as he skated on the third pair at practice alongside Travis Dermott.

Petr Mrazek will make his first start since he made 16 saves on 18 shots in a 2-1 loss to the Arizona Coyotes on Jan. 12.

Ondrej Kase and Justin Holl are set to rejoin the team on the ice for a skate on Saturday. Both were under quarantine after landing in COVID-19 protocol last week. Neither will be in the lineup when the Leafs visit the New York Islanders on Saturday.

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