Keefe downplays Ritchie criticism: Matthews, Marner as much to blame

Kevin Sousa / National Hockey League / Getty

Toronto Maple Leafs head coach Sheldon Keefe didn't want to scapegoat Nick Ritchie after benching him during a 5-3 defeat to the San Jose Sharks on Friday.

After the loss, Keefe faced numerous questions about not playing Ritchie for a prolonged stretch, but the bench boss emphasized his top forward unit of Ritchie, Auston Matthews, and Mitch Marner struggled as a whole.

"It was more to me about the fact that that line wasn't going today," Keefe said, according to The Athletic's Jonas Siegel. "You should be asking as many questions about Matthews and Marner today as you should be (Ritchie)."

Ritchie has disappointed since landing a top-line role out of training camp, but Keefe cautioned against fixating too much on the 25-year-old.

"I can tell the line of questioning I've been getting the last number of days, people want to pile on Nick Ritchie here, but let's not narrow the focus too much," the head coach said, according to NHL.com's Dave McCarthy.

Ritchie sat for the final 8:44 of the second period and the opening 3:16 of the third.

Matthews authored a stellar 59.38 expected goals for percentage and an even more impressive 68.42 scoring chances for percentage at five-on-five in the game, according to Natural Stat Trick. Marner posted a subpar 47.49 xGF% but a much more respectable 64.29 SCF% in the same situations.

Ritchie played only 9:34 at five-on-five in the contest, but his underlying numbers were the least flattering of the trio. The winger produced a paltry 23.28 xGF% and an SCF% of 50.

The former member of the Boston Bruins and Anaheim Ducks remains pointless after five games. The Maple Leafs signed him in July to a two-year contract carrying a $2.5-million cap hit.

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Keefe downplays Ritchie criticism: Matthews, Marner as much to blame
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