After Game 2, Toronto Maple Leafs’ head coach Sheldon Keefe was clearly frustrated and disappointed with his team’s performance. The team put up favourable statistics in terms of shot attempts, scoring chances, and high-danger chances. However, the team also made critical mistakes early in the second period of the game that resulted in two quick goals for the opposing team.
In postgame media interviews, Keefe mentioned that the mistakes his team made in Game 2 were uncharacteristic of their performance in the previous series they won against the Tampa Bay Lightning. He’s right, of course. But the key question that would have been on my mind – and I can’t imagine it not being on his mind – is “Why did my players do that?” and/or “What were they thinking – if, indeed, they were thinking?”
The last question is “What can we do now to ensure such mistakes don’t happen again?”
So, If You’re Coach Keefe, What Now?
If you’re the coach of a team that usually plays well, what would you be thinking? You just watched your team carry the offensive play of the game, but lose it in less than a minute because they made huge errors. Then, you watched them press hard without success because they met (in Sergei Bobrovsky) a hot goalie who simply shut the door.
It was a game the Maple Leafs should have won, even if Bobrovsky were on fire. But they didn’t. Instead, coach Keefe watched his team’s lack of discipline rise up to bite them in the rear. They had avoided such errors in their previous games, why now?
The Errors Were Small Ones with Big Outcomes
The turnovers that cost the Maple Leafs Game 2 were simple failures. One failed clearing attempt and one turnover in the neutral zone led to two quick goals for the Panthers. The first goal tied the game and the second goal gave the Panthers the lead. Both attempts might, in other games, have been inconsequential. Yet, in Game 2 these errors cost them goals and ultimately contributed to the team’s loss.
As a result, the Maple Leafs’ strong start in the first period all went for naught. They had taken a 2-0 lead, which in 49 seconds was completely erased. Then they were unable to maintain their momentum in the second period.
What Will Keefe Be Watching for in Game 3?
Overall, Keefe’s comments mirror his frustration with his team’s mistakes. He knows in his head and heart that his team is the better team. Yet, at the same time, his team was simply unable to replicate the success they had in the previous series against the Lightning.
He rightfully expects better execution and decision-making from his players. If they are going to win, they need to avoid costly errors in future games.
What Happens When a Good Team Makes Bad Mistakes?
When a good hockey team with quality players continues to make crucial mistakes on the ice, the coach can draw several conclusions about his players.
Conclusion One: The Maple Leafs Lack Focus
Coach Keefe might conclude that his players are lacking focus or mental discipline during games. This lack of focus and mental discipline then led to errors that could have been avoided.
So, how come? Was his team tired, complacent, or lack attention to detail? And, more key, now what?
Conclusion Two: The Maple Leafs Are Inconsistent
Coach Keefe might believe his players are simply inconsistent in their play. On one occasion, they showcase their skills and abilities. At other times, they make critical mistakes. Such inconsistency means that Maple Leafs’ players struggle to maintain a high level of play during the game.
Conclusion Three: The Maple Leafs Have Decision-making Issues:
Coach Keefe might conclude that his players are being challenged with on-ice decision-making. Are they making poor choices because the pressure is getting to them? Or, are they simply failing to make the right play at the right time? Do they lack hockey IQ? Are they having difficulty adapting to their opponents’ strategies? Or, is there a failure to stick to their own team’s game plan?
Conclusion Four: The Maple Leafs Are Having Defensive Lapses:
Because of the crucial mistakes that happened in the Maple Leafs’ defensive end, coach Keefe might conclude that his players are struggling with their defensive responsibilities, positioning, or communication.
Are these mistakes system errors or individual mistakes? Does he need to improve the team’s defensive systems, work on individual player development, or practice better overall team cohesion?
Conclusion Five: The Maple Leafs Lack Mental Resilience
During Game 1, Matthew Knies made a mistake that cost his team a goal. However, he almost immediately bounced back to score his own goal. That, in a way, negated his error. But not everyone is Knies.
Coach Keefe might now be worried about his players’ mental resilience and their ability to bounce back from mistakes. If such mistakes continue, does it suggest that his players are struggling to maintain their composure on the ice?
Even If You Know Why Mistakes Are Happening, What Now?
Ultimately, Coach Keefe’s conclusions and corresponding decisions will depend on the specific context and patterns of the mistakes he’s watched taking play. A coach’s role is to address these issues through practice, communication, and perhaps even making strategic lineup changes.
The bottom line is to ensure that the Maple Leafs minimize crucial errors and perform at their best. My belief after watching so many NHL hockey games is that it’s easier to prevent a goal than to score one yourself.
So, what can Coach Keefe do now to help his team prevent goals? That’s a key question for Game 3 in Sunrise, Florida, on Sunday night.