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KEEFE, TAVARES AMONG THOSE LOOKING FOR NYLANDER TO RESPOND AFTER SATURDAY'S BENCHING

Feb 22, 2021 à 13h31      MIKE ARMENTI
With hockey Twitter having exploded after the benchings to both Patrik Laine and Pierre-Luc Dubois before him by John Tortorella in Columbus earlier this season, you'd have expected that a William Nylander benching in Toronto would have broken the internet entirely. But that's not quite what happened on Saturday after Sheldon Keefe cemented Nylander's backside to the pine for the second half of the third period due to his play on that particular night.

The Nylander benching receiving very little attention by comparison, which is quite surprising, given the amount of criticism the 24-year-old has faced in his young career for his lackadaisical play away from the puck and his alleged unwillingness to go to battle in the tough areas.

On Monday, the talk about the Nylander benching has ramped up, and it all began with former Leafs forward Kris Versteeg addressing the matter on Sportsnet 590's The Fan.

Versteeg exactly disagree with the benching on the program, but he did suggest that it's now up to Sheldon Keefe to put Nylander in a position to rectify the situation and, according to Versteeg, that begins with more ice time for Nylander and Tavares.

"You can bench a guy but don't keep playing that card. You have to give something back ... Nylander and Tavares had 16 minutes (or less) and that's not nearly enough for star players. You can't even get into the game with 16 minutes," said Versteeg.

Perhaps the way Keefe has allotted the ice-time is a bit of an issue, but then again, it's been working for the team. The Leafs currently sit in 1st place in both the North Division AND the NHL, boasting a 14-3-2 record through 19 games played and that is due-in-large to the play of Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner, who have played big minutes for the club.

Maple Leafs captain John Tavares has no doubts about Nylander's ability to rebound from the benching on Saturday, using his competitiveness and drive as examples as to why he expects Nylander to respond well on Monday night against the Flames.

"He's an extremely competitive guy. He wants to be out there and make a difference. So, no doubt, he'll be prepared and ready to go," said Tavares after Monday morning's skate.

Sheldon Keefe touched on it as well in Monday's media availability, letting it be known that he expects a high level of play from his best guys, night in and night out and that he considers Nylander to be one of those players.

"The effort I expect is his best effort. I'm not necessarily questioning his effort the other night, it was just adapting to the game. We expect a lot from [Nylander]... and he knows exactly what my expectations are," said Keefe.

Nylander has been hot and cold this season, and I feel as though a better level of consistency is one of those expectations that Keefe has of the silky-handed winger and a strong performance against his hometown Flames would be a good start for Nylander in rebounding from a mostly forgettable outing on Saturday.



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