The Toronto Maple Leafs are sticking together to defend one of their own. Coach Sheldon Keefe and forward John Tavares are defending fellow Maple Leaf Morgan Rielly following a touch cross-check that Rielly dealt to an opponent's head. Rielly hit the Ottawa Senators' Ridly Grieg with just seconds left in a game between the teams on Saturday.
Grieg scored an empty-net slap shot goal in the last few seconds of the Senators' 5-3 victory over the Maple Leafs Saturday night. Following the goal, Rielly seemed to take exception. He then cross-checked Grieg to the head, starting a scrum between players on the two teams. Rielly received a game misconduct penalty following the incident.
“We obviously didn't like the result on the empty netter,” Maple Leafs captain Tavares said, per ESPN. “So, we're going to stick together and stand our ground when necessary.”
Maple Leafs coach Keefe didn't seem to disagree with his team captain. Following the game, Keefe said he didn't take issue with Rielly's conduct.
“He was reacting to a play,” Keefe added. “Their player has the right to do what he wants in that moment. And our players have the right to react. And it's the emotions of the game.”
The NHL is sure to look at the incident and possibly enforce stricter discipline on Rielly, including possible financial penalties. The NHL is taking greater exception with plays that harm player safety. The Maple Leafs are now 26-16-8 on the season, following the loss. Toronto will try and get back in the win column on Tuesday, when the team takes on the St. Louis Blues.