Coach Sheldon Keefe ‘perplexed’ by slow-starting Maple Leafs

Phillip Danault had two goals and an assist to help the Los Angeles Kings beat the Toronto Maple Leafs 5-1.

TORONTO – Sheldon Keefe stood at the post-game podium Monday night and did his best not to tear the paint off the media room walls.

His slow-to-jell Toronto Maple Leafs had been making incremental progress all last week, mounting a five-game run of W’s that culminated in a wall-to-wall effort against the Boston Bruins on Saturday. Given the opponent and the result, it was their best of this season.

Then they turned around, yawned, and showed up one period too late Monday versus the Los Angeles Kings.

By the time they decided to play catchup, the game was already over.

“What I’m perplexed about is just the start: why we can’t come out and assert ourselves and have urgency and have pace and just let people fly through the neutral zone and get to our net,” Keefe said, ticked off but keeping calmer than he’d like to be after a 5-1 loss.

“It’s not good enough. The opposition doesn’t give us that. We don’t get free passes to fly through the neutral zone and go in alone on the goaltender. We don’t get those looks to start games; we’ve got to earn those looks.”

With the Kings and Leafs conducting two significant deadline trades in recent years, an extra layer of revenge was baked into their matchup.

Grizzled shutdown man Jake Muzzin won a Stanley Cup in L.A. but now logs heavy minutes for the Leafs, and Toronto starting goalie Jack Campbell was the unchosen one in L.A. when the franchise crowned Cal Peterson as Jonathan Quick’s incumbent.

“We knew we were trading a pretty good goaltender away, but where we were as an organization—and even where we are right now—we have to make some strategic moves,” said Kings coach Todd McLellan. He pointed to Tobias Bjornfot, the emerging young D-man L.A. selected with the first-round pick it got in return. “It all works out based on where the teams are in their evolution.”

Things worked out just swell for Trevor Moore, who notched his first of the year and first of the game off a feed from fellow traded Leaf Carl Grundstrom.

Moore smiled when confirming he’d put money on the board for his long-awaited return — and he’ll be happy to pay up after L.A. executed the ideal lockdown road win, keeping the Leafs off the board 5-on-5.

In Toronto, the undrafted California kid developed his two-way game and had hoisted the 2018 Calder Cup under Keefe.

Practising at Coca-Cola Coliseum on Sunday, Moore’s Kings teammates pointed his name out on the ring of Marlies who have graduated to the Show.

“I think a lot about his journey, a guy that came fresh out of college and struggled to find himself in the American League and eventually did and was a very important part of our team that won the Calder Cup,” Keefe said. “It was tough to see him go at that time.

“At the same time, I’m happy to see him be a full-time NHL player, be home in California, all those things. I got a lot of time for Trevor.”

The speedy Andreas Athanasiou went inside-out on Muzzin and flipped a puck high past Campbell’s far shoulder to double the Kings' lead.

Two high-speed Kings rush goals and a 2-0 deficit summed up a listless opening frame from the Leafs.

“Just a couple of routine saves. Give ’em up, and we're down 2-0. So, can't happen,” said Campbell, misplacing all the blame on himself.

“I'm pretty sure everybody in the building knows it wasn't my best, so it cost us two points.”

John Tavares and Toronto’s power-play extended their respective hot streaks early in the second, chopping the lead in half.

But noted Leaf killer Phillip Danault crashed the crease and knocked a puck off his boot to restore the two-goal lead.

A dialed-in Quick withstood the Leafs’ third-period push, and Danault and Adrian Kempe (empty net) added insurance markers late.

The Kings simultaneously extended their win streak to five and halted Toronto’s at that same digit.

Despite the Quick-Campbell connection, this one was not a tale of dueling goaltenders.

This was about a deserving team jumping out hungry, catching the other napping, then pushing them to the perimeter as punishment for late attendance.

“When you win games and you win them the right way, you [learn] what that feels like as a team, and you can replicate it. That’s why you see teams go on win streaks — you get a feeling what the recipe is,” Toronto's Jason Spezza said.

These Jekyll-and-Hyde Maple Leafs know their formula for what works.

With three more games this week — Philadelphia is on deck Wednesday — the trick will be applying it quickly and consistently.

“Until we get that sorted out,” Keefe warned, “we’re going to continue to ride this wave.”

Fox’s Fast 5

• Justin Holl and callup Joey Anderson took part in warmup despite being healthy scratches. Cool moment for Joey who (in addition to getting NHL money for a few days) got to look across the ice and see younger brother Mikey — a defenceman for the Kings.

• Travis Dermott on his name surfacing in trade rumours: “I’ll keep doing what I do until something happens, if it’s going to happen.

“The best I can do for myself is come in here and show what I have every day. I’m in the Blue and White now, and that’s where my heart is.”

• The Maple Leafs were dinged for another too-many-men infraction and are now tied with the New Jersey Devils for the most bench penalties this season (four).

• Danault, Athanasiou and Alex Iafallo looked fast and inspired, all enjoying multi-point nights.

• Year-round mustache owner Auston Matthews unveiled custom Movember edition skates and stick:

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