The Toronto Maple Leafs are under some immense pressure to win this season. Probably more than any other team in the league given the expectations and lack of postseason success with this current core. Every loss, every flaw, every decision is put under a microscope and examined to an insane, almost irrational degree, even when the team is playing well. Such is life in a hockey mad city that has an unquenchable thirst for a championship.
Head coach Sheldon Keefe may have given everybody even more reason to throw his team under a microscope on Wednesday night following a 6-3 loss to the New York Rangers, a game that saw the Maple Leafs blow a 3-1 lead.
To say that Keefe was angry with his team’s performance would be an understatement. He used the word “soft” on more than one occasion, said nobody played well, nobody coached well, and that even if they had converted on some of their third period chances and produced a different result it would not have changed the way they played overall.
“Today I just thought we played soft. We made poor decisions defensively, we could not sort anything out. I just thought it was far different,” said Keefe after the game on Wednesday. “Each game has been different, so it is hard to talk about patterns other than the obvious that we have been giving up leads. I just thought we got exposed today for being a team that was just soft and purposeless and just kinda playing the game and hoping it was going to work out.”
For a team that has consistently been criticized for being poor defensively, and not gritty enough, and always needing to add toughness comments like that, even if they refer to just a single game, are like throwing blood in the water for the team’s critics.
On one hand, his frustration is understandable. Even though it has not consistently burned them, the Maple Leafs have developed a bad habit lately of blowing leads.
They lost a 4-1 lead against Colorado that resulted in a 5-4 overtime loss, a 3-1 lead against Vegas that required a shootout to win, and a 3-1 lead against St. Louis that required two late third period goals to give them a regulation win. Then there was Wednesday’s game against New York. All of those games were just over the past five games (and the fifth game was a 2-1 loss to the Arizona Coyotes). Not really a trend you want to see happening, and definitely something you want to fix now before it carries over to more important games in April and (hopefully for Toronto) May.
But it does show the level of pressure this team is facing when it is 24-10-3 for the season, and 6-3-1 over the past 10 games, gets ripped to shreds like that by its coach after a game. Now we get to see if this becomes a talking point again as the season progresses, or the Maple Leafs figure this out and make things easier on themselves.