Sheldon Keefe didn’t mince words on Saturday morning.
The Maple Leafs coach said he “hated everything” about his team’s lack of physical response after defenceman Timothy Liljegren was injured on an egregious trip by Boston Bruins captain Brad Marchand on Thursday.
Following a full day off on Friday, the Leafs announced on Saturday that Liljegren was placed on longterm injured reserve, with Keefe confirming that the 24-year-old suffered a high ankle sprain. Liljegren will miss “significant time,” Keefe said, which means he won’t be able to play in his home country of Sweden in two weeks when the Leafs face the Detroit Red Wings and Minnesota Wild in Stockholm.
The Leafs recalled defencemen Max Lajoie and Simon Benoit from the Toronto Marlies. Lajoie made his Leafs debut on Saturday night against the Buffalo Sabres at Scotiabank Arena.
Regarding the Marchand matter, other than Ryan Reaves saying a few things to Marchand as the Bruin circled by the Leafs bench following the play — no penalty was called — the Leafs didn’t so much as shrug.
It wasn’t a good look for a club that likes to pride itself on being a tight-knit group. Led by the stoic manner of captain John Tavares, the Leafs are not a team that wears their collective emotions on their sleeves, and watching Liljegren hobble off the ice at TD Garden didn’t change that.
For teams that stand up for each other, a physical response would have been the natural outcome. The Leafs have put themselves on the clock now.
“We talked about it, we addressed it in the room and it will be changed going forward,” Reaves said. “When (Marchand) skates by the bench, I think there probably could be a little more of a response there, but we talked about it and we will respond accordingly.”
What was Reaves saying to Marchand?
“It was, first of all, get away from the bench,” Reaves said. “Second of all, he was lucky I was not out on the ice with him. They had last change, so I didn’t get any shifts against him.”
The Leafs will have last change when they next meet the Bruins, on Dec. 2 in Toronto.
Said defenceman John Klingberg: “It looked like it was a hit on hit, but after we got to see the replays and talk to Lilly in between periods, we understood what happened and it’s obviously a dirty play.”
Keefe pointed out that the Leafs responded on the scoreboard. It was 1-0 for the Bruins when referee Wes McCauley missed what appeared to be an easy call on Marchand; Boston made it 2-0 before Mitch Marner and Auston Matthews scored to tie the game. The Bruins went on to win 3-2 in a shootout.
“Brad Marchand doesn’t care about Ryan Reaves or anybody else in the league,” Keefe said. “That’s well-established.
“It’s more about the team response. There’s a lot of other players that are wearing Bruins colours, we can make life harder on them. It’s more just about an uplifting of our team. We came back in the hockey game. So that’s a response in itself.”
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NOT THERE YET
Tyler Bertuzzi is going to round into form.
Keefe is sure of it.
“Bert is a very important player for us and will be a very important player for us and will come through,” Keefe said. “The harder this thing gets, the better Bert is going to be.”
A glance at recent history bears that out. Bertuzzi had 10 points in seven playoff games with the Bruins last spring after he was acquired in a trade with the Red Wings. In 21 regular-season games after the swap, Bertuzzi had 16 points.
The catch with the Leafs, however, was how little Bertuzzi produced through 10 games. Two goals, both on the power play, and one assist amounted to Bertuzzi’s contributions.
That wasn’t nearly enough for a player who was supposed to provide some consistent scoring after signing a one-year, $5.5 million US contract with the Leafs in free agency.
Bertuzzi didn’t click on a line with Matthews and Marner, and, heading into the game against Buffalo, hadn’t found a rhythm with captain John Tavares and William Nylander.
In each of the Leafs’ previous two games, Bertuzzi barely saw the ice in the third period.
“I have to be better,” Bertuzzi said on Saturday morning. “No excuses. It’s simple plays. Be hard on the puck.”
There was some online heat for Bertuzzi after he was seen on camera on the Leafs bench, nodding his head and smiling at Marchand following the incident on Thursday.
“People can perceive that however they want,” Bertuzzi said. “I’m not going to explain myself.”