BOSTON — There is no joy in Leafland right now.
Losing is always hard on a NHL team, particularly when you blow a third-period lead on home ice one night and then get churned up in a grindfest with your biggest rival the next one.
Still, even in that context, there seems to be an undeniable strain on the Toronto Maple Leafs after going 5-4-2 through a brutal 11-games-in-21-nights stretch to open the regular season.
A lot of long faces. Tough words, too.
“It’s just not good enough,” Auston Matthews said after Tuesday’s 4-2 loss to the Boston Bruins. “We need to be better and I think it comes from the leadership group. I need to be better. All of us need to be better.
“I think we just need to look each other in the eye and hold each other accountable and put this game aside and take a couple steps forward and just be better for one another.”
Some uncomfortable themes are developing.
The Leafs have shown a profound lack of discipline in the last four games — giving opponents 17 power plays, including a pair to the Bruins courtesy of Andreas Johnsson in a perplexing 52-second stretch that allowed Boston to take a 1-0 lead on Tuesday.
They’ve also demonstrated an inability to negotiate tight moments and squeeze out victories. This was a 2-2 game with 20 minutes to play and there wasn’t much push, especially after Brett Ritchie scored off a broken play at 6:35.
“We need to find a way,” said Matthews. “Going into it, we knew we’d need to grind it out. Keeping it simple was probably the play for us and I think at times we did that and at times we didn’t, but we were in a good spot going to the third period and obviously they got a big goal there and we couldn’t climb our way back.”
What stands out most is how little fun everyone seems to be having.
Whether that’s a product of the sky-high expectations, of the hectic schedule, of all the new faces still searching for a niche — or some combination of those factors — only those on the inside can truly know.
But there was an undeniable heaviness in the air as the Leafs packed up their bags and headed home.
“Tough building, tough team,” Jake Muzzin said of the Bruins.
“You always want to start the season off well,” said Kasperi Kapanen, who had a strong night with a goal and an assist. “I think our team hasn’t got off to the start that we’ve quite wanted. A lot of games that we’ve been losing by a goal or in overtime.”
As for this loss itself, it went down in a predictable manner.
The Perfection Line pinballed their way around the offensive zone and produced highlight-reel goals from David Pastrnak and Brad Marchand. They also kept Matthews and Mitch Marner at bay by forcing them to chase the puck around their own end.
“They’re playing against a good line,” said Leafs coach Mike Babcock. “So which part’s the good line and which part’s them? We’ve talked about this a number of times over the years, who should play with who.
“In the end, your dominant players got to be dominant players for you.”
Matthews agreed with that assessment.
“They kind of do things differently,” he said of Marchand, Pastrnak and Patrice Bergeron. “For us, [the coaches] kind of preach a guy in the slot, a guy on the net and then a guy in the corner, but they’re kind of all over the place. Their ‘D’ get active and it’s really hard to defend and they obviously do a good job of finding each other.”
The truth of the matter is this was probably a schedule loss as much as anything, but the frustrating has started to build from earlier performances. The Leafs are built with a Stanley Cup push in mind and yet they haven’t dominated to the degree they’d like despite some improved underlying numbers.
Some of that falls on goaltending — although No. 2 Michael Hutchinson, with 35 saves, shouldn’t be blamed for what happened here in Boston — and some of it is on correctable mistakes like their ghastly penalty differential.
“It’s just been the same thing kind of over and over for us,” said Matthews. “We haven’t been disciplined. We’re taking ourselves out of the game with penalties and, I mean, it’s costing us. It’s taking us out of our rhythm so I think that’s on us.
“We have to hold each other accountable and obviously do a better job of staying out of the box and when we do get power plays, capitalize on them.”
They won’t find relief in the schedule.
After a day off Wednesday and practice Thursday, they host San Jose on Friday and visit Montreal on Saturday.
That doesn’t look like a fun stretch either.