Time, Max Domi suspects, is on his side.
The Maple Leafs winger was slow to score in his first few games with Toronto, recording just one assist and five shots on goal.
The 28-year-old preaches some patience as he works to get his game in shape. Domi has been through this before with new teams, telling reporters in Tampa after the Leafs’ practice Friday that he had some success in Carolina and Dallas after making trades to those clubs at the deadline in recent seasons.
“Even though I take short breaks here and there, you are expected to contribute like everyone else,” Domi said. “When we played for guys like Pete DeBoer (with the Stars) or Rod Brind’Amour (with the Hurricanes), the common denominator was, ‘We’re going to throw a lot of stuff at you and we’re going to need the next 20 games to recover to prepare.’ to go because when the puck drops for Game 1 (of the playoffs) then we need you to play at a high level.
“I’m not saying it’s going to be 20 games (in Toronto), but that’s the mindset. It takes time. It’s not one of those things where you suddenly snap your fingers and everything just clicks, especially when there are a lot of new faces.”
As the Leafs enter their game against the Lightning on Saturday night with an impressive 2-2 record, coach Sheldon Keefe continues to experiment with his lines and try to find the right mix to give the Leafs the best chance to take over the better team 60 minutes.
For this purpose, David Kampf was promoted to the middle of the third row in training and ran between Domi and Calle Jarnkrok. In the middle of the fourth line was Pontus Holmberg, recalled from the Toronto Marlies earlier in the day, while rookie Fraser Minten was the 13th forward.
Tyler Bertuzzi, who played through the Leafs’ 3-1 loss to the Panthers in Florida on Thursday with a minor injury, was back with Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner and declared himself ready to play Saturday night.
Defensively, Keefe liked the Leafs’ game in Florida to start a five-game trip to the season. But the offense has to work, as the Leafs have only scored one goal for the second game in a row.
As for Domi, who signed a one-year deal in the summer, things have been awfully quiet on the ice. He’s made it no secret that he’s always wanted to play for the Leafs, following his father Tie’s path, and was asked if he wanted it a little too much.
“You always want to be successful immediately,” said Max Domi. “It’s human nature. No one wants to fall down a few times, but without failures or mistakes you will never succeed. That’s how you learn.
“Part of growing up and growing up is being able to deal with these things calmly. It’s an honor to wear this jersey, it’s an honor to be on a team as good as this. Just keep building and having fun and it will come.”
MATTHEWS KILLS IT
Matthews is finding his penalty-taking minutes to his liking, although he’s not happy with adjusting to the role.
“It’s still a work in progress,” Matthews said. “Sometimes I’m still a little hesitant out there, but when we’re able to split games then it becomes hockey and you just try to get good results without making any compromises.
“There is still a lot of room for improvement, but it was a good challenge and a lot of fun.”
Once he gets the hang of it, you can count on Matthews, much like Marner, to excel at killing. Matthews’ defensive awareness, ability to recover pucks and cause turnovers are unparalleled.
“He broke off plays, he got the puck back and he converted the penalty through offensive play,” Keefe said. “He’s just going to get better at it. The most important thing is that he really seems to enjoy it and when a player of this caliber gets into it and wants to be a part of it, he will find a way to make it work well.”
HOLMBERG checks in
Before the Leafs knew Bertuzzi would play Saturday, they called up Holmberg and sent defenseman Simon Benoit to the Marlies to guard up front in case it became apparent that Bertuzzi would have to sit.
The Leafs might have recalled Holmberg anyway. In 37 games with Toronto last season, Holmberg had some bright moments, and despite general manager Brad Treliving’s offseason forward additions, there was a feeling it wouldn’t be long before Holmberg was called up from the minors.
“We like the player,” Keefe said. “He’s a good player and played a lot of good hockey for us last season.
“He has good skills. I thought it seemed like he might have hit a wall in the second half of the season and he wasn’t the same player we had before. The league is becoming increasingly difficult. Most young players will go through that, I think he did, but for this experience it should be better.”
After a mediocre camp and preseason, Holmberg picked up two points in two games with the Marlies.
“I’m happy for him to get this opportunity,” Marlies coach John Gruden said after the Marlies practiced at the Ford Performance Center on Friday. “He’s a 200-foot player, can play in all situations and you can rely on him.”