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Leafs stars Matthews, Marner respond to Sheldon Keefe’s public criticism

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Tensions run high for the Toronto Maple Leafs in the best of times, and following a 4-2 loss to the lowly Arizona Coyotes earlier this week, head coach Sheldon Keefe ripped into his star players for underperforming after his club dropped to 2-2 to start the year.

“Our best people have not found a rhythm. The difference between us and Arizona is that we have elite players. And our elite players didn’t play like elite players,” Keefe told reporters post-game Monday.

Auston Matthews, the reigning Hart Trophy winner has registered one goal and two points in four games to begin the year, although the advanced stats suggest that he’s due for an offensive explosion soon. Mitch Marner, William Nylander and John Tavares are all averaging better than a point-per-game thus far, but it’s a pivotal year for the Maple Leafs and every game will be examined through a magnifying lens.

After individual meetings with their head coach over the past couple days following the public scrutiny, Marner and Matthews appear to be taking it in stride.

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

Maple Leafs stars Mitch Marner and Auston Matthews downplayed head coach Sheldon Keefe calling them out publicly after Monday's loss to Arizona. (Photo via USA TODAY Sports)
Maple Leafs stars Mitch Marner and Auston Matthews downplayed head coach Sheldon Keefe calling them out publicly after Monday’s loss to Arizona. (Photo via USA TODAY Sports)

Keefe offered a clarification of his comments Wednesday morning.

“I used some of the wrong words to try to describe what I was trying to describe, which is that the difference in the game, I find, was that we weren’t able to produce,” The Maple Leafs head coach said.

“By no means was I meaning anything beyond that. They didn’t know what I was talking about, which is a good thing. At the same time it is important that they know where I was coming from.”

This is part of the territory of playing for a talented team in a hungry market with Stanley Cup potential that has also lost six consecutive first-round series.

Matthews shared Marner’s assertion that the Maple Leafs’ best players weren’t hurt by Keefe’s post-game analysis.

“I kind of understand how it works now,” Matthews said. “I think the conversations that happen behind closed doors without media and stuff go beyond more generally discussed than just harping on guys.”

Toronto resumes its season on Thursday against the Dallas Stars.

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Darnell Nurse sounds off on Edmonton Oilers slow starts after Stuart Skinner faces 50 shots – TSN

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Another slow start for the Edmonton Oilers wasn’t their undoing against the Washington Capitals in Monday’s 3-2 loss, but it certainly didn’t help either.

The Oilers were outshot 22-12 in the opening frame, with Stuart Skinner turning aside all 22 in his eventual 47-save performance in the loss.

“We come in here and we talk about it every day,” Oilers defenceman Darnell Nurse said of his team’s starts. “We sit here after the game, talk about it over and over and over. … We want to have good starts each and every night but, you know, we’re sitting here and it’s a part of our game. We’re almost a quarter of the way through the season.

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“The more we just talk away and pester at it, we need to just show up and play. Relax, pin our ears back and come out on the on the attack.”

The Oilers were outshot 50-30 on Monday, including 19-7 in the second period, when Skinner allowed two goals.

“We weren’t as quick and physical as we wanted to be in the defensive zone,” Edmonton coach Jay Woodcroft said. “Our goalie stood tall. We’re 2-2 going into the third period. We made a critical error, and it ended up in the back of our net.”

Skinner Unfazed as Oilers Allow 50 Shots

Skinner, who has moved into the starting role ahead of Jack Campbell over the past month, saw his record drop to 7-6 on the season, with a .916 save percentage and a 2.93 goals-against average.

The 50 shots faced against the Capitals were a season high for Skinner, who said the early barrage helped put him the zone. 

“I think if you get a few [early] chances on you and make all the saves, it’s a little bit of a confidence booster,” Skinner said. “They got on the power play and I got a few shots on the power play, so after that I was ready to go.”

The loss dropped the Oilers to 14-12-0 on the season as the team currently sits in the top wild-card spot in the Western Conference. 

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‘We need to be better’: Oilers continue to fight slow starts, costly turnovers – Sportsnet.ca

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Pettersson's revenge: Canucks keep surprising with 'inexplicable' comeback vs. Canadiens – Sportsnet.ca

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