Team defence, scoring depth emerges as bigger problems for Maple Leafs

Fourth straight loss highlights more woes than team toughness as Toronto kicks off five straight home games

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Before they talk any more about dispensing street justice, the Maple Leafs should clean up their own backyard.

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They now have a four-game losing streak to ponder along with weak depth scoring, struggling newcomers, injuries on defence and this week’s latest debate, lack of response to opposition skullduggery.

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Saturday’s 6-4 home defeat to Buffalo, which had played and lost the night before, underlined more problems than whether Brad Marchand deserved to be slapped around for sending Timothy Liljegren to injured reserve.

Toronto’s slump, longest since last October when they were swept on a Western U.S. road trip, was an ominous beginning to five straight at Scotiabank Arena that precedes their trip to Sweden.

The Leafs wasted another Auston Matthews hat trick, gave up a power-play goal and short-handed tally and three times allowed Buffalo to move ahead shortly after tying it. Matthews 10th career three-goal game was foiled when a point shot from Rasmus Dahlin struck Alex Tuch cruising in front. Tuch added an empty netter.

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Ryan Reaves, under fire for not doing more in Boston and being exposed defensively, happened to be on the ice for Tuch’s winner.

In every SBA game so far, the Leafs have surrendered at least four goals as well. Matthews had made it 3-3 just 17 ticks into the final frame before Jordan Greenway scored off a breakout that hit a Leaf. He then triggered the third chapeau shower of the season off a draw.

After the tepid response to Marchand’s can opener stick work in Boston, no band of brothers’ opportunity presented itself for the Leafs as they try and find the elusive chemistry to spread scoring beyond Matthews and Mitch Marner.

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Still MIA are Tyler Bertuzzi, Max Domi and John Klingberg, and even young Matthew Knies is looking frustrated.

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The second period was a blur of penalties, the Leafs looking very disorganized with 1:26 to work with from a previous minor, then stumbling into a 5-on-3 for 1:34.

That was with top killers David Kampf and Marner in the box, but Joseph Woll defused most of it himself with some help from Calle Jarnkrok on the draw and a Mark Giordano shot block.

No sooner did Matthews draw a slashing call, then last man back Marner tried to go through Tage Thompson and coughed it up. Woll got some but not all of the puck and the Sabres were up 2-1.

Matthews briefly evened it on another man advantage goal, his 80th to move ahead of Wendel Clark for fourth in that career category, but on the next shift, Jeff Skinner beat Woll off the rush on a slap.

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After Buffalo’s hustle saw it get the game’s first four shots, a Thompson tripping call set the Leafs up to pour seven on Devon Levi. They finally got the goal they needed to support a more amped up physical game (they actually out-hit Boston 26-24 on Thursday) when Jarnkrok found Marner for a breakaway.

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Marner’s fourth goal of the season was his 564th point to pass Bob Pulford for eighth in franchise history, but Toronto handed that right back on J.J. Peterka’s power play goal from a bench minor for too many men.

Woll, who has given up 12 goals in three home defeats, stopped Peterka on a third-period breakaway just before Tuch’s fortunate bounce.

The Leafs were breaking in a new defenceman in Maxime Lajoie after putting Liljegren on the shelf, having already pressed William Lagesson into service and calling up Simon Benoit with Lajoie.

William Nylander did extend his team record for points in consecutive games to start a season to 11 with an assist.

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