Since the schedule was released, I had Monday’s game between the Toronto Maple Leafs, and the Carolina Hurricanes circled on the calendar. Of course, Frederik Andersen against his old team was one reason, but I was curious to see how Toronto would match up against one of the best teams from last season. This was before before the dreadful start to the 2021-22 season, when hopes were still high. Unfortunately, if the last two weeks weren’t enough, or the debacle in Pittsburgh, it’s now clear the Maple Leafs are not even close to being good enough to compete with the NHL elite.
Not only did Carolina own every aspect of the game en route to a 4-1 victory, but head coach Rob Brind’Amour said, “I don’t know if it was our best game.” He said his guys worked hard but, “we still got some areas to clean up, which is good that we are finding ways to win.”
Maple Leafs Go From Favourites to Under Dogs
Despite taking the fourth loss in a row, Toronto’s head coach sounded more positive than the coach of the still undefeated Hurricanes. “I can only speak for myself right now, I guess. My confidence gets a boost in the group today from myself, frankly,” said Sheldon Keefe.
Understandably, anything would look better than the game in Pittsburgh, but the coach saw a lot of positives while losing 4-1. “I liked the fight of our team. Obviously, we scored first. I thought we stuck with our game even though it was difficult. That is the hardest game we have played in this season by a wide margin in terms of the pressure, in terms of how difficult it was, and how little time you have with the puck. It is a different type of game than we have played this season.”
He might be correct, but that is where his team is now. Not getting blown out and keeping it somewhat respectful against a Stanley Cup-contending team is a constructive development. What a stark contrast to earlier this month when several analysts and sports outlets had the Maple Leafs pegged as a top team to contend for the Cup.
Maple Leafs Are Not at the Standard
This team is no longer there, and Keefe knows it, “playing on the road here in Carolina is a different animal. It is something that our team hasn’t really felt in quite a while. It requires a lot more from you, and it is eye-opening. We have talked about raising the standard as a team all the way through. I thought, through our camp, we did a number of things, but it hasn’t really been put to the test like it was here today.”
And they failed the test. Auston Matthews got his first goal of the season, but the cover boy of NHL 22, considered one of the best in the sport, took a back seat to a much more skilled team, “we played a really good team tonight. Offence is hard to come with the way that they play. Like I said not the result that we wanted, but I think there’s things that we can take from a competitive standpoint that we can move forward with positively, but obviously losing sucks.”
With just 5 points out of a possible 14 to start the season, losing does suck. But what might be worse is the realization that this team is not the contender it was thought to be. The Leafs did win the North Division a season ago, but it was considered the weakest division in the NHL. So perhaps the team has not been as good as advertised for some time; we just didn’t know it. Now we do.
Kevin Armstrong is an award-winning journalist with more than two decades of experience. He’s been rink side for World Juniors, Memorial Cups, Calder Cups and Stanley Cups. Like many Canadian kids, his earliest memories include hockey. Kevin has spent countless hours in arenas throughout the country watching all levels of the game.