Sloppy hockey catches up with the Maple Leafs after their loss to Chicago

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So the Maple Leafs lose 4-1 to an inferior Chicago Blackhawks team while managing to keep Connor Bedard off the scoreboard.

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You didn’t see that coming, did you?

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There was no hat trick from Auston Matthews to cover up the shortcomings on Monday night at Scotiabank Arena.

Let’s be honest – that’s what happened in the first two Leafs games of the 2023-23 season, both wins and both led by three goals from the Leafs superstar. The Leafs weren’t great in either game, but Matthews got his scoring machine on, making Toronto’s efforts a little more palatable.

There is no such deal against Chicago. Don’t let Blackhawks goaltender Arvid Soderblom’s 34-save performance or Matthews’ eight shots on goal fool you.

The Leafs didn’t play with much energy, especially at the Blackhawks’ net. If you’ve never heard of Soderblom, maybe it’s because he came into the game with a career record of 2-13-2. He’s not a Vezina Trophy winner.

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These are the Blackhawks we’re talking about. They have Connor Bedard, some smart veterans and not much else.

On paper, there was no reason for the Leafs not to win. As we’ve seen, sometimes the Leafs can’t get it done when the opponent is in the lower tiers of the National Hockey League. Monday was another one of those moments.

“We expect a lot from ourselves and want to play at a certain level and standard,” said captain John Tavares. “We can say it’s a long season, but we want to start playing as soon as possible. Every game is equally important. The points are important. Today’s result and looking at the game as a whole, we need to be better connected from start to finish.”

The Leafs don’t play at home again until Oct. 31, when they return from a five-game trip against the Los Angeles Kings.

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Some observations from Monday night and the Leafs’ first three games overall.

No defense

The Leafs have been underwhelming on offense, and that can be attributed to their defensive woes.

Their play was disjointed and lacked structure, and if you will, you can attribute that to the influx of new players. But that’s what the pre-season is for, to smooth out the bumps. Eight friendlies should achieve something close to that, and yes, we know the veterans didn’t play in every game. Despite it.

If one could argue that Ryan Reaves had the biggest impact among the new additions, then that’s not great, and that’s no small feat for the fourth-line winger.

Max Domi didn’t go unnoticed and Tyler Bertuzzi picked up five minor penalties, including two against the Blackhawks. Neither Domi nor Bertuzzi made any compromises on offense.

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The defensive pairing of John Klingberg and Jake McCabe wasn’t a good fit, and coach Sheldon Keefe broke it up in the third period, using Klingberg with Mark Giordano and McCabe with Timothy Liljegren. We’ll see if these new pairs stay together when the club meets for training on Wednesday after a rest day on Tuesday. There is also a possibility that defender Simon Benoit, the only additional player currently, could be added to the lineup.

Overall, there is too much disorganized play in the defensive zone. The Leafs have allowed 13 goals in three games. There are, as they say, areas that need tidying up.

A small list

Aside from William Nylander’s flash and some good saves from goaltender Joseph Woll, there wasn’t much positive for the Leafs on Monday.

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After scoring 99 points last season, Mitch Marner had three assists in three games and was off the scoresheet against the Blackhawks.

If the Stars can’t break through, there needs to be offensive support from lower in the lineup. In that regard, Matthew Knies didn’t take the next step and didn’t score any points despite only registering four shots on goal. Fraser Minten should be praised for making the Leafs at age 19, but there are zeros in the score columns next to his name. Twice a shift in the second period on Monday, Minten fired a shot and might have scored his first NHL goal if he hadn’t. Things like this usually keep hockey players up at night.

Bertuzzi has a goal. Domi has an assist. More was expected from both of them at this early stage.

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What’s next

Can we expect the Leafs to clean up their act? The team has proven in the past that it can take action defensively.

Toronto had 111 points at the end of the 2022-23 season, and that total wasn’t achieved by luck and good timing.

Even when there have been demoralizing efforts against bad teams – even when those shouldn’t happen – the Leafs have bounced back.

There will be off nights in an 82-game schedule.

What could weigh on the Leafs heading into their trip to Florida against the Panthers on Thursday is that a similar game on the road won’t be enough. Stops in Sunrise, Tampa, Washington, Dallas and Nashville all present different challenges.

Continuing to play sloppy hockey won’t help.

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“We continue to focus on the things we’ve been focused on,” Keefe said. “The next game we play won’t be like this one. We had the puck probably 75% of the game, that won’t happen if we go away. The game will be different.

“If we focus too much on some of the things that happened here tonight, we won’t be ready for the next opponent. It will be a tough road trip for us, strong opponents.”

X: @koshtorontosun

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