Ilya Samsonov, Max Domi, Sheldon Keefe, Toronto Maple Leafs

Maple Leafs’ Keefe Discusses Focus for Domi, Team Defence

Off to a two-game mini win streak to ring in the 2023-24 season, it’s easy to get lost in the positives that we’ve seen from the Toronto Maple Leafs. Obviously the four points early in the season are nice — add to that the milestone for Auston Matthews and his six goals in two games and things seem to be pretty good in Maple Leaf land.

But looking at it again, the Maple Leafs — not just Ilya Samsonov — have given up nine goals through the first two games of the season and have become reminiscent of the Gretzky-day Edmonton Oilers who outscored their opponents on the regular while still giving up a large number of goals. It’s safe to say that’s not what you want in today’s game.

Auston Matthews William Nylander Toronto Maple Leafs
Auston Matthews and William Nylander, Toronto Maple Leafs (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Still, while the team is choosing to focus on the positives they can draw from their play thus far, head coach Sheldon Keefe is focusing on how he can change some the weaknesses he’s seen to this point with the team — moving Max Domi to the third line so he can look for more offensive control in his game while the rest of the team is set to sure up their overall defence.

Maple Leafs’ Team Defence a Focus After Two Games

Undoubtedly the nine goals in two games is something the Maple Leafs and Keefe would like to look at moving forward. Sure, two games in it’s not time to panic and with new players coming into the lineup the system is still under construction.

Still, it’s something that Keefe wants to address sooner than later.

“It just looks like it’s early and he hasn’t found his groove yet,” Keefe said in regards to Samsonov’s early struggles. “But at the same time, like we’ve talked about a lot of the years, it doesn’t matter who’s in goal. There’s a responsibility for our team defence to help take care of our goalies. So let’s focus on that as a team. No matter who’s in our net, there should be a level of structure and security around our goalies that allows them to find that groove.”

We’ve seen it in recent years, the growth of players like Matthews, Mitch Marner and even William Nylander to play a more consistent 200-foot game. Heck, there’s an argument to be made that Matthews and Marner could’ve been up for the Selke Trophy over the past couple of seasons.

While it’s seemingly just a defensive bump in the road to start the year, the players don’t seem to be that concerned when it comes to the early season struggles in their own end.

Ilya Samsonov Toronto Maple Leafs
Ilya Samsonov, Toronto Maple Leafs (Photo by Julian Avram/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

“Every game I’ve had a couple of s***** goals and s***** bounces. But it’s okay, and I will figure it out,” said Samsonov of his own play.

It’s also not the first time we’ve heard Samsonov be critical of his own game and while some players can crumble under the criticism, last season Samsonov showed some resilience in bouncing back at different points in the year.

Even Marner said of the Maple Leafs’ opening night win that while it’s not how they drew it up and it’s not a pretty win, it’s a win nonetheless and gives them something to work on moving forward.

Maple Leafs’ Domi Needs to Focus on Offensive Control

While the majority of the team will be focusing on overall team defence, Max Domi’s focus will be on controlling the offence with his line mates — something Keefe alluded to in practice following a move to the third line late in their matchup with Minnesota on Saturday night.

Domi has one assist and three shots through the team’s first two games and is a minus-three. He hasn’t made any noticeable mistakes over that span, but Keefe wants him to focus on gaining control of the puck and taking care of it — a game of possession.

Max Domi Dallas Stars
Max Domi, former member of the Dallas Stars (Photo by Glenn James/NHLI via Getty Images)

In the conversation, Keefe noted, “My focus with Max is how he manages the puck offensively. If you don’t take care of the puck offensively you have to defend that much more. We want to do a better job when we lose the puck, but in Max’s case it’s how he can keep his group on offence more.”

Domi is coming off a 20-goal season with the Chicago Blackhawks and Dallas Stars and while goal scoring might not be the main focus for him, he has the ability to be more effective both in the neutral zone and the offensive zone helping to create more chances for his line mates moving forward.

Related: Maple Leafs’ Keefe Impressed With Nylander, Domi Connection

Either way, it’s clear the Maple Leafs still have some kinks to work out early in the season and with so many new faces in the lineup. The positive? Well, they’ve kicked off the season 2-0-0 and have a lot of time to figure it out with the offence clicking to this point.

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