Not since Sheldon Keefe went behind the bench have the Maple Leafs allowed 13 goals in their first three games.
Removing Monday’s empty-netter in the 4-1 loss to Chicago still leaves them with the most pucks fished out of the twine since October of 2018 under previous coach Mike Babcock.
Toronto has surrendered the third-most goals of NHL teams who’ve played three times so far, 10 of those at 5-on-5, second only to the Andrei Vasilevskiy-less Tampa Bay Lightning.
Early? Surely. But this is a team that was looking to maximize its extra practice time in what it considered an overly long training camp with eight exhibition games. In a change of past camp blueprints, many vets were kept out of most pre-season action to be fresh for the games that mattered.
After Monday, when the Hawks had more high-danger rushes for anyone’s tolerance, there were contrite statements from players about cleaning up details.
Without an Auston Matthews hat trick to cover their defensive acne, the Leafs looked vulnerable and, as a cross coach Keefe and others observed, the mistakes are being committed by veterans as well as new players.
Jake McCabe has had as many hiccups as John Klingberg on the blueline and there was a change of pairings late in Monday’s match, with those two and the Mark Giordano-Timothy Liljegren tandem.
Max Domi was already taken off the left wing of the line with John Tavares and William Nylander when deemed a defensive liability, moved to what Keefe hopes is a better fit with rookies Fraser Minten and Matthew Knies, energetic checkers in need of Domi’s offensive help.
But Tavares didn’t think the growing pains of having seven new skaters swapped in since opening night last season could be a collective excuse for the broken plays.
“We win and lose as a team,” the captain said.
The Leafs had Tuesday off, then will have a day of practice before a five-game trip begins in Sunrise, Fla.
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Tavares gave a definitive “no” to whether the Leafs were guilty of looking past last year’s 59-point Blackhawks, even with Connor Bedard fronting their revival.
“We didn’t execute to start the game (but) once our game got going, we started carrying play.
“It’s just understanding the counter (attack). That’s the other side of it. At the highest level in the world, you have to realize how quickly plays can be made against you.”
There should be no trouble getting up for Thursday’s game, the Panthers having eliminated the Leafs to represent the East in the Stanley Cup final. Florida won its first game Monday, beating New Jersey after two season-opening losses.
“Get back in the win column and establish our game for 60 minutes,” Nylander said of what the focus should be throughout the coming trip.
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A final thought on the flap caused by Bedard not being made available to a large media contingent by the Blackhawks for his much-anticipated first game in Toronto: It followed Chicago’s decision not to hold a morning skate in Toronto and only make coach Luke Richardson available a couple of hours before the game without the required two players of the team’s choosing.
The Montreal Canadiens, for the season-opener in Toronto, also stayed away all day while the Leafs held their usual full morning session.
No one expects players, even the stars, to talk seven days a week and twice on a game day (Chicago did have Bedard and all of its players handy on Sunday for a smaller media group at practice), but there is an obligation to speak under the league’s CBA, for broadcast sponsors and, most importantly, personal accountability.
Doug Gilmour didn’t relish the constant attention at the height of his Leafs fame, but once said to us: “Five minutes with the media out of a 24-hour day is not a lot when they represent the people who pay for tickets and our fans.”
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A win on Monday might have set up Joseph Woll for another start in net in Florida, given how last year ended for him against the Panthers. But Keefe might not prefer Ilya Samsonov be idle a full week until Saturday’s game in Tampa. Samsonov would also have two days off before a start he’d love to make in Washington against his old team … Tuesday marked 28 years since No. 28, Max’s father Tie, was assessed an eight-game suspension for a one-punch KO of Ulf Samuelsson in a Leafs-Rangers’ game.