The Toronto Maple Leafs proved what happens in Vegas doesn’t stay in Vegas. Just 26 seconds into the game against the San Jose Sharks and Toronto was down a goal. This was not the kind of start Sheldon Keefe was looking for after mixing up the lines and trying to spark this less-than-impressive-looking team. While they fought back, the Buds handed the lowest-scoring team in the NHL their first win on home ice this season.
Maple Leafs Slow Start is Infuriating
Toronto has been behind in all eight games so far in this young season. For a team that is supposed to be a Stanley Cup favourite, it is yet to put on a dominant show. What was worse about giving up the early goal is that the Maple Leafs must’ve talked a lot about having a solid start after the loss to the Vegas Golden Knights on Monday.
If you recall, and you might not because it was a forgettable performance, the blue and white gave up a goal (two actually, but one was called back) in the first four minutes of the first and another 42 seconds into the third period. Therefore, giving up a goal 26 seconds into this one is a head-scratcher. Again, Keefe took the blame after the Vegas game for not having the team ready, but this time the responsibility lies on the players.
Holl, Defense is a Mess
At some point, the hockey gods must give Justin Holl somewhere to hide. The weakest link on Toronto’s blue line was exposed immediately, losing a race to the puck and leaving his goalie alone to face Logan Couture. Then after Toronto gave up two powerplay goals, Holl put the puck over the glass to put the team down a man again. Luckily Toronto was able to kill that penalty.
But Holl, who seems to take all of the blame, is just one piece of a crumbling defensive unit that Keefe is now calling out. He said after the Vegas game that it was concerning how easily the Golden Knights were getting behind the blueliners, and now he is not impressed with how the defensemen are moving the puck. “It starts with the D. Their first touch has to be better,” said Keefe. He was also asked if changing up the pairings would help, “I don’t see that it would change anything,” he responded.
Line Shake-Up is a Wash
Keefe dropped Michael Bunting to the third line and moved Alexander Kerfoot up to the top line while putting Pierre Engvall and David Kampf back together on the fourth line. It’s hard to say if there were any improvements, as the line matching was changing throughout the game. Kerfoot recorded two assists in the top-line winger job, so full marks there.
However, Keefe said he was making changes to get more out of the bottom six. But, the bottom six were not all that noticeable. Kampf got a goal because he was still on and benefitted from the play of Kerfoot and Mitch Marner. The poor play of Engvall continues as he took a hooking call at the same time as T.J. Brodie was called for tripping. The Sharks scored on both of the ensuing powerplays.
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Keefe appears to be using a passive-aggressive approach to tell the front office he can’t do anything with the defence he has been given. He has called out the poor blueline work for two straight games and admits that changing the pairings won’t solve the problem. He’s also clearly frustrated with the lack of production in the bottom six. With a lot of extra cap space, thanks to players on the LTIR, it might be time for Kyle Dubas to help his coach out and save his own job in the process.
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Kevin Armstrong is an award-winning journalist with more than two decades of experience. He’s been rink side for World Juniors, Memorial Cups, Calder Cups and Stanley Cups. Like many Canadian kids, his earliest memories include hockey. Kevin has spent countless hours in arenas throughout the country watching all levels of the game.