Sheldon Keefe ''not concerned'' about Auston Matthews scoring 70 goals

Mike Armenti
April 3, 2024  (11:50)

Auston Matthews celebrates a big goal against Arizona
Photo credit: Mark J. Rebilas, USA Today Sports

Toronto Maple Leafs head coach Sheldon Keefe is not the least bit concerned with helping Auston Matthews hit 70 goals this season, confirming as much on Wednesday.

Scoring 70 goals in the NHL in any era is an impressive feat. Scoring 70 goals in this era, however, is almost unfathomable. Yet, here we sit, at game #74 of the season for the Leafs, with Auston Matthews having a legitimate shot of reaching that incredible milestone.
The last two players to record a 70-goal season were Teemu Selanne and Alexander Mogilny, who both scored 76 goals back in 1992-93. It's taken us 31 years to get to a point where another player has even come close. Alex Ovechkin hit 65 goals back in 2008, but has never exceeded 60 goals in a season since. Matthews has managed to reach the 60-goal plateau twice in the last 3 seasons and looks to be well on his way to bypassing Ovechkin's 65-goal season. There's potential for him to get there before the week is out.
Matthews potted goals number 61 and 62 on Monday against the Florida Panthers, putting him just 8 back of number 70 with 8 games to play. You'd have to assume that, at some point, Sheldon Keefe is going to give his stars a night or two off, especially if the Leafs clinch a playoff spot tonight. To do so, they have to register just 1 point, meaning even with an OT loss against the Lightning, the Leafs are in.
Unfortunately for Matthews, Leafs head coach Sheldon Keefe isn't the least bit concerned with individual stats and has let it be known through the Toronto media that he doesn't plan to lose focus of the team's primary goal just to allow a player to chase a 70-goal milestone.
"I'm not concerned about 70 goals at all. I'm concerned about having him and our team ready to go for playoffs. Like we saw the other night, he gets two last game and those are two important goals for us in the game. He's going to contribute that way and that's what he's done all season for us. He's an important part of our team. That [70 goals] is not our focus, not my focus at all."
-Sheldon Keefe on Auston Matthews' pursuit of 70 goals

Sheldon Keefe was hired by the Maple Leafs back in November of 2019 after then head coach Mike Babcock was fired following a horrid start to his 5th season behind the bench in Toronto. Now in his 5th season as Leafs head coach, Keefe is only marginally more successful in the postseason than Babcock was, winning 1 playoff series against Tampa Bay last spring before floundering against Florida in round 2.
Keefe intimated on Wednesday that his only focus is on preparing his team for battle in Round 1, in what is likely to be a rematch with the Florida Panthers. It's not an ideal matchup for the Maple Leafs, as the Panthers are one of the stingiest teams in the league when it comes to giving up scoring chances. Yes, the Leafs are coming off of a 6-4 win over Florida on Monday, but there's a vast difference between regular season hockey and playoff hockey, as we well know.

Even if Keefe does decide to rest Matthews at the end of the season, 70 goals is well within reach

For Matthews, 62 goals is already a new career high. With every passing game and with every passing goal, he's setting a new franchise record. Even if Keefe does opt to rest Matthews towards the end of the season to ensure that he's at 100% for Game 1, there's still a chance that he hits 70 goals, but he'll have to do it the right way. Keefe will not tolerate any cheating on offense at this point in the year, when the team's details have to be the focus. These players need to be at their best and need to focus on building good habits to carry into the playoffs. I'm sure Matthews understands this.
Matthews is a goal per game away from hitting 70 goals, but if he happens to put up a multi-goal game or two over the team's final 8 contests, he can reach 70 without having to play in all 8 of the Leafs' remaining games. Matthews already has 6 hat tricks this season, and 17 multi-goal games. It's well within the realm of possibility.
When the Scottsdale, Arizona product scored his 60th goal against Buffalo, it was easy to see by the way he celebrated the goal that it meant a lot to him. Scoring 70 would mean even more, but I think if you sat him down and asked him what the focus is right now, he'd say that the focus is on winning when it matters and that the individual stats are a distant second. Matthews wants to win. He wants to be the best. He wants his name on the Stanley Cup. 70 goals is nice, but it's not the focus.

If Matthews gets to 69 goals before the final game of the season and Sheldon Keefe sits him for game #82, we shouldn't be surprised

There's a lot on the line for Keefe this season in Toronto. We've already seen a number of coaches with term remaining on their deals being relieved of their duties this season. Lindy Ruff, Craig Berube, Jay Woodcroft and Todd McLellan are all among the coaches who have been fired in-season. With all of these changes occurring, Keefe knows that this could be a make or break year and that the Leafs need to have some success in the postseason to ensure that his job is safe. Even if that's not the primary focus, I'm sure he's aware of that. I'm sure he's not going to risk an Auston Matthews injury in a pointless game #82.
At the end of the day, Matthews is a pro. He knows that while 70 goals would be perhaps a once in a lifetime achievement. However, if it came down to a choice between 70 goals and a Stanley Cup, which do you think he'd choose?
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Sheldon Keefe ''not concerned'' about Auston Matthews scoring 70 goals

Will Auston Matthews reach 70 goals this season for the Maple Leafs?

Yes22644.9 %
No20841.4 %
65 tops6913.7 %
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