'When you play good, sometimes it doesn't go your way': Leafs insist they're not panicking
Toronto Maple Leafs head coach Mike Babcock looks on during the final seconds of play during third period NHL hockey action against the Calgary Flames in Toronto on Monday, October 29, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Joshua Clipperton, The Canadian Press
Published Friday, November 2, 2018 5:59PM EDT
TORONTO -- John Tavares moved in on a 2-on-1 break and inexplicably saw the puck roll off his stick at the critical moment.
Mitch Marner was there for the follow-up chance only to flub his initial attempt before whipping a second, wild effort high and wide.
That third-period sequence from Toronto's stars summed up the Maple Leafs' frustrating 2-1 home loss to the Dallas Stars on Thursday.
The chances and the effort were there -- the Leafs held a 64-39 edge in attempts on goal -- following Monday's listless performance in a 3-1 defeat to the Calgary Flames at Scotiabank Arena.
The finish and the bounces for a team suddenly struggling to score, however, was not.
"When you play good, sometimes it doesn't go your way ... we probably stole a game we didn't deserve to win earlier," Toronto head coach Mike Babcock said after Friday's practice. "I liked how hard we played, I liked how we eliminated their opportunities.
"Just stay with the process and keep doing good things."
The Leafs opened the season 6-1-0, scoring an NHL-high 33 times, but have found the back of the net on just 10 occasions since, including three combined goals in four home losses.
"We're happy with our game (against Dallas)," Marner said. "It's making sure we keep that work ethic up."
Getting a power play that was lethal early back on track is also key.
After going a ridiculous 9 for 19 on the man advantage over their first seven games, the Leafs are just 2 for 17 since, with both goals coming while Toronto was effectively up two players -- a 5-on-3 power play that had just ended against Calgary and a 6-on-4 edge with netminder Frederik Andersen pulled late against Dallas.
"We need to get more pucks (to the front of the net)," Marner said of the power play. "Eventually they'll go in.
"We've just got to try to get those dirty ones."
Minus star centre Auston Matthews, who will be out until at least Nov. 26 with a sore shoulder, and the still-unsigned William Nylander, the Leafs are without two-thirds of what was projected to be their top line.
But there were indications Toronto's offence was starting to dry up even before Matthews went down.
The 21-year-old, who registered 10 goals and six assists in his first seven games, had been held off the scoresheet in four straight before last weekend's injury.
Tavares, who bolted the New York Islanders in free agency to sign a seven-year, US$77-million contract with Toronto, has seven goals and seven assists in 13 games, but the centre has scored just once in his last nine.
"I'm counted on to produce," said Tavares, whose team visits the Pittsburgh Penguins on Saturday. "When you have opportunities to capitalize, you think about it and you think about how you can make adjustments and how you can be better.
"(But) as I've learned over my career, letting that weigh you down inhibits you going forward."
Marner, meanwhile, has four goals and 12 assists on the year. He had five assists in four games before the loss to Dallas, but hasn't scored in his last six.
The 21-year-old did put up 24 points (seven goals, 17 assists) to lead Toronto in the 20 games Matthews missed last season with various injuries, but said he doesn't put any added pressure on himself to deliver when the team's best player is on the shelf.
"We've got a lot of guys in this locker room that can drive an offence," Marner said. "It can't be one guy.
"You need a whole forward group to buy in."
The Leafs (8-5-0) were shut out 3-0 by the Penguins (6-2-3) at home on Oct. 18 to begin their current run of four losses in the last six games, but are a perfect 5-0-0 on the road this season.
Tavares, who repeatedly went to battle with Penguins stars Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin as division opponents during his time in New York, said he always enjoys taking on two of the world's best.
"There's no doubt that they'll be the driving force of their team, as they have been for the last 10 years," said Tavares, 28. "It's a great opportunity to raise your game and have that challenge ... it's a lot of fun."
What the Leafs could really use right now against Pittsburgh and moving forward is some secondary scoring.
While Nazem Kadri broke out of his early-season slump, Patrick Marleau has two goals through 13 games, Connor Brown has a solitary empty netter and Zach Hyman has yet to score despite his seven assists.
"We're looking for more balance," Babcock said. "Some of those guys that weren't getting chances are getting chances."
Marner said there's no reason to panic, adding the players know they will be rewarded if effort level remains high.
"We're a calm group," he said. "We know the firepower we have.
"Bounces aren't going our way right now, stuff happens like that."