Leafs' Keefe 'hated' lack of physical response after Liljegren-Marchand incident

TORONTO — Sheldon Keefe wasn't impressed.

Ryan Reaves added the situation was discussed internally.

As the Maple Leafs prepared to face the Buffalo Sabres on Saturday night, their attention Saturday morning was still firmly focused on what transpired less than 48 hours earlier.

Toronto announced defenceman Timothy Liljegren had been placed on long-term injured reserve with a high ankle sprain suffered in the first period of Thursday's 3-2 shootout loss in Boston when he was tripped by Bruins forward Brad Marchand and fell awkwardly into the board.

No penalty was called on the play.

Keefe, whose team had the day off Friday, was asked about the lack of a physical response from his group in both the moment and the immediate aftermath of the incident.

"I hated everything about, and I've addressed it," he said following Toronto's full morning skate at Scotiabank Arena. "It's not what we want to be about. At times we've responded very well in those situations.

"It's about consistency."

Toronto was pushed around during last spring's five-game loss to Florida in the second round of the playoffs, including rookie forward Matthew Knies getting body slammed to the ice by Panthers centre Sam Bennett — without much pushback.

Reaves, an enforcer signed over the summer by general manager Brad Treliving as part of a roster overhaul, said the reaction to the Liljegren-Marchand incident had been talked about internally and would be "changed going forward."

The bruising winger added players on the ice might not have realized what happened in the moment.

"But when (Marchand) skates by the bench, I think there probably could be a little more of a response there," Reaves said. "We will respond accordingly."

The Leafs recalled defencemen Max Lajoie and Simon Benoit from the American Hockey League's Toronto Marlies with Liljegren out for the foreseeable future after being taken out by an opponent with a history of bending rules.

"In real time it didn't look like anything," Reaves said. "And the replay … you can form your own opinion on what happened based on the player.

"Didn't look overly malicious, but it looked like there was some intent."

Leafs captain John Tavares said the bond in the locker room is strong despite Thursday's non-existent answer on the physical side.

"No doubt that we've got a tight group," he said. "We talked about having a strong brotherhood and instances like that, things that happen within the game, how we stick together.

"We discuss all areas that we want to be better in, and that situation as well."

Keefe said he wasn't looking for his players, who came back from a 2-0 deficit in Boston, to chase Marchand around the ice.

"Brad Marchand doesn't care about Ryan Reeves or anybody else in the league — that's well-established," said the coach. "It's more about the team response. There's a lot of other players that are wearing Bruins colours that we can make life harder on.

"It's more just about an uplifting of our team."

Keefe said Toronto has shown an ability to respond in a number of ways, but added that stepping up to a physical challenge in a moment like the Liljegren injury is a "part of the game we have to fully embrace."

"There's a lot of areas in our game where we're lacking consistency," he said. "Some nights we're great at it. Other nights we're not.

"To be the team that wants to accomplish great things, you've got to find consistency."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 4, 2023.


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Joshua Clipperton, The Canadian Press