Leafs play down to the level of the Canadiens in season opener


MONTREAL—Heading into the season opener of a contract yr, the Maple Leafs’ Michael Bunting was effectively conscious that there’s multiple strategy to go about negotiating a contract extension.

Some gamers, maybe involved they’ll be distracted by monetary discussions within the midst of their work yr, set Recreation 1 as an unofficial deadline for an settlement. If it’s not performed by then, they’re completely happy to choose up talks each time the season concludes. However Bunting, talking within the Leafs dressing room earlier than Toronto started the 82-game grind on the Bell Centre on Wednesday evening, insisted he’s OK with speaking turkey and time period within the midst of the season, even when he’ll depart the small print to his agent.

“I type of don’t actually need to know quite a bit (about negotiations),” he mentioned. “I simply need to play.”

Bunting and his staff appeared to be taking part in effectively sufficient within the opening throes of Wednesday’s season premiere towards the not-so-menacing Canadiens, who completed final within the league final season. When Bunting scored Toronto’s opening objective, jamming in a well timed feed from Mitch Marner from shut vary, it regarded like an announcement of quick-strike prowess. Although the Leafs had begun the sport considerably carelessly, giving the Canadiens a few energy performs earlier than the sport was 5 minutes previous, right here they have been making no mistake on their first likelihood at level clean.

That flash of brilliance was all too rare for the Leafs. On an evening that noticed the underdog Canadiens pull off a wild 4-3 win, with Josh Anderson scoring the winner with 17 seconds remaining in regulation, the Leafs picked up a brand new season the place they left off in final yr’s common season — failing to keep away from complacency towards a staff that’s anticipated to be an NHL backside feeder. Group captain John Tavares known as the trouble “sloppy.”

“It was early-season sloppiness, however I don’t anticipate that. With all the pieces our staff has been by way of collectively, that’s unacceptable,” Toronto coach Sheldon Keefe mentioned. “We’ve bought to be far more accountable … There was nothing unsuitable with our effort. It was simply careless. I anticipate extra. Our group ought to anticipate extra. Not adequate. We need to lose.”

Final season, bear in mind, there have been solely 5 groups that beat Toronto in regulation time greater than as soon as. Three of these groups didn’t make the playoffs. And one in every of them was the Canadiens, who cut up the four-game season sequence with the Leafs.

As Keefe was saying earlier than Wednesday’s sport: If his staff hadn’t performed all the way down to the competitors towards the likes of the woeful Canadiens — to not point out the Buffalo Sabres, who beat Toronto 3 times in regulation, and the Vancouver Canucks, who managed the feat twice — perhaps they wouldn’t have confronted the daunting Tampa Bay Lightning in one other unsuccessful try at successful a playoff spherical.

“Had we fared higher towards a number of the groups that didn’t make (the playoffs), it might have made a major distinction to the place we completed … We have been in a great place going into the playoffs, nevertheless it might have been higher,” Keefe mentioned earlier than the sport. “So let’s get that began tonight.”

The Canadiens got here into the opener with a lineup that included three rookies and minimal expectations given final season’s outcomes. However Montreal, if its defensive corps isn’t any assassin’s row, has an apparent power: With the slick-shooting likes of Anderson and Cole Caulfield of their midst, they’re harmful off the frenzy. So it needed to irk Keefe that Caulfield scored twice and the Leafs — who tied the sport at 3-3 with 1:50 to play in regulation on a objective by William Nylander — selected to partake in a chance-trading monitor meet down the stretch, permitting the Canadiens to “quick break” en path to the successful objective.

“We talked about (Montreal’s harmful rush sport) this morning, talked about it earlier than the sport, after which fed proper into it,” Keefe mentioned.

It’s not that Toronto didn’t have its probabilities. Denis Malgin, who banged in a John Tavares rebound to present the Leafs a 2-1 lead halfway by way of the second interval, missed on a breakaway not lengthy after. And after Caulfield scored to make it 2-2 late within the center body, Alex Kerfoot missed on a penalty shot. Auston Matthews, held goalless, hit a submit on an influence play.

However the Leafs didn’t follow the sport plan, Keefe mentioned, and paid the worth.

“Once you’re not ready to play the required strategy to win the sport, you lose, regardless of who you’re taking part in,” Keefe mentioned.

As for Bunting, with Wednesday’s loss underlining the potential for day-to-day stress within the centre of the hockey universe, it’s not accidentally that there have been loads of gamers earlier than him who’ve made the selection that in-season negotiating is a no-go.

As Keefe mentioned earlier than Wednesday’s sport: “For him, the problem could be to not get caught up in the rest apart from what he can management.”

Nonetheless, you possibly can perceive why Bunting is eager to get a deal performed. Coming off a watershed yr by which he scored 23 objectives and 63 factors whereas solidifying his standing because the go-to left winger alongside Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner on Toronto’s prime line, the 27-year-old Scarborough native might do worse than to get a long-term extension largely pegged off final season’s stats. Presently incomes a modest $950,000 and due a significant elevate, he mentioned he’ll stay with the inconvenience of blending enterprise with a child’s sport.

“I’m a Toronto boy. I like taking part in for the Maple Leafs. That is my dwelling. I grew up in Scarborough,” Bunting mentioned. “It’s a lot enjoyable placing on that sweater each single evening, and that’s what I’ll say about it. And I hope all the pieces else figures out itself.”


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