TORONTO -- The Toronto Maple Leafs success last season was based on their ability to put the puck in the net — Toronto finished fifth in the NHL with 3.05 goals per-game —, but was mitigated by an inability at times to hold onto leads. That habit reared it’s ugly head once again in their home opener on Saturday, an 8-5 victory over the New York Rangers at Air Canada Centre.
The Leafs scored five goals on 17 shots in a frantic opening 20 minutes and chased Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist, but became complacent with a big lead and allowed New York to tally before the end of the first and score three times in the middle frame to tie the game.
“We had a little bit of that experience from last year, being up in a game and letting it get away a little bit. But this year we battled back,” said Leafs forward Zach Hyman, who scored in the first period to give Toronto a 2-1 lead. “You want to shore up the defensive side of the game when you are up 5-1. You should have that game locked up.”
Tyler Bozak’s first goal of the season midway through the third proved to be the game-winner, but surrendering a four-goal lead was utmost on the minds of the players and Leafs head coach Mike Babcock after the game.
“You saw this kind of thing last year at times, where we just lose our way and we did that, but we had enough stability and enough talent just to stick with it and get the win,” Babcock said. “It’s kinda fun, eh? But it’s dumb. We had lots of guys taking their turn at turning it over and being silly and doing crazy things and saying all that. We also had a lot of guys playing real hard and do things right.”
The Leafs lead the NHL in goals after scoring seven times in Winnipeg and eight against the Rangers, but said they know that at some point they will be unable to outscore their mistakes and have to be more conscientious defensively.
“I don’t think we can keep this pace going; that’s unheard of," said defenseman Jake Gardiner, who scored a goal and assist to help Toronto improve to 2-0-0. "We are going to have to crack down defensively and keep the puck out of our own net.”
The Leafs won't have to wait long to get another crack at tightening things up in their own end. Toronto will face the Chicago Black Hawks at Air Canada Centre on Thanksgiving Monday. Chicago is also 2-0-0 and has scored 15 goals, but has allowed two goals in wins against the Penguins and Blue Jackets.