In preparation for Monday’s Round 6 of their season series against the Canadiens, a likely playoff foe, the club flew to Montreal after Saturday night’s home win.
Sunday was reserved for the cap-twisting management group to set up a hotel war room and start cranking out trades.
Ripping off a 9-0-1 streak and helping goaltender Jack Campbell make history with an 11-0-0 run, the players had earned a full day off the ice to soak up Masters Sunday uninterrupted on their North Division cushion.
Monday night, however, the Leafs stumbled around Bell Centre for the first period like they needed a caddy to point them in the right direction.
Tomas Tatar scored on the game’s first shot. Nick Suzuki on the seventh, a wicked wrister on the power-play.
After 20 lopsided minutes, Montreal had outscored the Leafs 2-0, out-shot them 12-3, out-chanced them 15-5, drew all the penalties, and generated six times more high-danger chances.
“We were sloppy,” Zach Hyman said. “They played harder today than they did last game.”
The contest was barely 20 minutes old, and it already felt like a mulligan.
A forgivable stinker, but a stinker nonetheless.
“Coach’s job is to get the team ready to play. We weren’t ready to play. That one falls on me,” Sheldon Keefe said, bluntly.
What should frighten the Canadiens — arriving determined to snuff out a three-game losing skid and having held a players-only meeting to reset their focus — is what should embolden the Maple Leafs.
And were it not for Josh Anderson sniping a puck clean and high over Campbell’s glove on a 2-on-1 rush, the Leafs might’ve swiped a point or two despite showing up for one of the night’s three periods.
Instead, they lost 4-2. (Tatar added empty-net insurance.)
And Campbell was, typically, too hard on himself.
“The guys deserved a win,” Campbell said. “Pretty embarrassed by my effort, to be honest. Just not good enough. Cost us the game. I’ll think about the game, analyze it, learn what I did wrong, which was a quite a bit, and be ready to go tomorrow.”
Campbell reads seam passes much better than he points blame. To be sure, the Habs deserved these points.
The end result isn’t familiar, as it marked the first-place Leafs’ first multi-goal defeat in a month. But a major symptom is recurring.
Once again, Toronto’s shambles of a power play went 0-for-2, generating few looks of quality and committing offside infractions upon entry.
The Leafs have now been outscored 3-1 over their past 36 power plays, an enduring problem Keefe estimates is “100 per cent” between the ears.
“Special teams really could have been the difference. They were plus-1 today. We don’t get one on the power play. We could pull a point out of this, perhaps, if we’re able to do that,” Keefe reflected. “That’s a good sign because we play as poorly as we did, yet we’re right there in the game. That’s the positive coming out of it.”
Hyman believes the 5-on-4 solution could be some back-to-basics execution.
“Getting pucks towards the net and creating chaos and outnumbering them at the net,” Hyman said. “I think we’re a confident group. We’ve got elite, elite players, so it’s just a matter of time.”
They’ll fly home and get another crack at it Tuesday night against the Calgary Flames.
David Rittich — Campbell’s new backup and the only goalie to shut out Toronto this season — will be in the building, although Keefe did not yet commit to a starter.
“He’s had some great games against us, for sure, so that's certainly what stands out,” Matthews said. “I've heard good things about him, so we're looking forward to adding him as well as a couple of guys to our group.
“Kyle and the management, coaching staff really believes in us. They've made some moves to try and help our team. So, we gotta take that and look ahead and just continue to get better.”
Good news is, it can’t get much worse than this one.