Matthews' pursuit of 70 goals a "major distraction" says Sheldon Keefe

Mike Armenti
April 14, 2024  (9:32)

Auston Matthews focused ahead of the faceoff

Auston Matthews' pursuit of 70 goals has been a major storyline in the NHL this season. However, after last night's loss to Detroit, Sheldon Keefe called the pursuit a "major distraction".

At the midway point of the 2nd period last night, Matthews ripped home his 69th goal on the power play, putting him just one goal back of the incredible milestone. The problem was, after that point, the Red Wings knew where the puck was going every time the Leafs entered the offensive zone with Matthews on the ice and were able to shut the Leafs down with relative ease by simply swarming Matthews, preventing him from getting any clean looks at #70. In the end, a late penalty by Max Domi led to the Wings ending the game early in OT with the man advantage.
Sheldon Keefe was already frustrated with how his team let the game get away from them in the first period, which was clear from his demeanor during his postgame media availability. He discussed the topic of Matthews chasing 70 goals and didn't think the pursuit of the impressive milestone did the team any favours last night.
"Yeah, I mean, obviously, that's a major distraction. It doesn't help us, what we're trying to accomplish on the ice. But it's exciting. I get it. And it's-- especially when he gets to 69, you can see it. It's really-- it's growing, anticipating. And now you're feeding it. I'm feeding it. I want it to happen. But I wanted it for the fans. But I'm glad the game's over. Let's move on."
-Keefe on Matthews' pursuit of 70 goals

After sharing the sentiment of being glad to be able to move on from a disappointing loss, it's clear that while the bench boss wants Matthews to get to 70, he's not a fan of deviating from the game plan in order to help him achieve it. That much was evident in how much he played Matthews after the Leafs went down 4-1 in the contest. You could tell that Keefe just wanted to get it over and done with so the team could adjust their focus and get ready for the playoffs.
Keefe's assessment of the situation, while blunt, was also not far off from the truth. The Leafs were forcing the puck to Matthews all night long. Keefe was double-shifting his franchise center in an attempt to help him get #70 out of the way so the team could focus on cleaning things up before the playoffs begin next weekend.
Matthews played 24 minutes of ice time on Saturday night, firing 10 shots on goal, with a total of 15 shot attempts. Matthews is a high-volume shooter, but those numbers are excessive, even for a high-volume shooter, which indicates that the team was forcing it all night to try to help him cap off a brilliant season with the goal that everyone wants to see. In doing so, they shot themselves in the foot against Detroit, passing up on other scoring opportunities to try to create some Maple Leafs history.
There are now just two games remaining on the schedule for the Leafs, who will head out on the road to close out the season with stops in Florida and Tampa Bay before the playoffs commence next Saturday. At the moment, the Leafs are heavily favored to draw Florida in Round 1, but there's still a small chance that they could meet Boston instead, as Florida moved to within 1 of the Bruins on Saturday. If Florida beats the Leafs this week and Boston loses both of their final games, we'll see Leafs/Bruins in round one. However, if Boston wins either of their last two games against Washington or Ottawa this week, it will be Leafs/Panthers in Round 1.
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Matthews' pursuit of 70 goals a "major distraction" says Sheldon Keefe

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