TORONTO — The Toronto Maple Leafs will be front and center during Hockey Hall of Fame induction weekend, playing home games Friday and Saturday.
And with some of the sport’s all-time greats in town, they know they need to pick up their defense.
The Maple Leafs have allowed 17 goals in their past three games and have lost five of six (1-3-2). Toronto has allowed four or more goals in seven straight home games to start the season for the first time since 1976-77 and is 3-4-0 at Scotiabank Arena.
Following a 6-3 home loss to the Ottawa Senators on Wednesday, coach Sheldon Keefe said his concern level regarding his defense was very high.
“Some of it is individual, some it is collective within the structure, some of it is just being committed,” Keefe said. “We sit in here and celebrate guys who score big numbers, we don’t talk enough about what we give up. That’s the reality. We have to prioritize keeping the puck out of our net.”
On Thursday, defenseman Mark Giordano said Toronto’s defense has much to improve.
“There’s going to be more than one thing you have to key on when it’s that many goals,” Giordano said, “so we’ve given up way too much and we know we have to tighten up.”
Toronto will host the Calgary Flames, who have won two in a row after losing their previous six, on Friday (7 p.m. ET; TVAS, SNW, TSN4). The Maple Leafs will then host the Vancouver Canucks on Saturday before heading to Stockholm, Sweden, on Monday for the 2023 NHL Global Series Sweden presented by Fastenal, where they will play the Detroit Red Wings on Nov. 17 and the Minnesota Wild on Nov. 19.
There could be personnel changes for the Maple Leafs against the Flames based on how practice looked Thursday.
Defenseman Jake McCabe, who has missed the past six games with a groin injury, skated on a pair with Giordano while John Klingberg, who was minus-3 against the Senators and has zero points and is minus-6 in his past seven games, skated as the seventh defenseman. Keefe said the lineup will depend on whether McCabe can play and he did not rule out dressing 11 forwards and seven defensemen.
The game Friday will have added drama, with Maple Leafs general manager Brad Treliving facing his former team for the first time. Treliving, who was hired May 31, held the same position with Calgary for nine seasons until he and the Flames mutually agreed to part ways April 17.
“You always want to put in a good effort for guys who are playing against, coaching against or managing against their former team,” Maple Leafs defenseman Morgan Rielly said, “but I think most importantly for us, we want to put in a good effort for other reasons as well. There will be no shortage of motivation for us tomorrow to go out and play well, play hard and put forth a good effort.”
Following practice, Keefe had a more positive approach reflecting on the past two games, which included a come-from-behind 6-5 overtime win against the Tampa Bay Lightning on Monday.
“Despite the fact that the numbers have been big against, I see things trending in the right direction,” Keefe said, “so let’s reinforce that while also staying really good and solid in the details in key moments.
“The last couple of games to me the puck has gone in the net a lot, but at the same time I also look at it as two of our better games we’ve played all season. … In terms of scoring chances and 5-on-5, both games have been in our favor and that hasn’t been the case throughout the season. So I look at things trending in a positive direction, yet we are making mistakes that are ending up in our net. Goaltending has a say in that and can help us there.”
With five days between their game Saturday and their first game in Sweden, forward Mitchell Marner said there is significant urgency for the Maple Leafs to get their game turned around.
“We want to make sure we are playing our best hockey and we haven’t done it yet,” Marner said. “We’ve had times where we have, but that’s something we talk about a lot is being consistent with our A-game. We know we have it in us.”
Giordano added, “You just want to feel good, man. You use whatever you can to feel good about getting your game going. Feels like after these two games there’s a break … so you want to feel good going into any break, feel good about your game and get back on track, so we need to do that.”
Despite their recent poor stretch, Giordano pointed out that the Maple Leafs entered Thursday two points behind the Lightning for second place in the Atlantic Division. He also offered some perspective that could perhaps calm any frustration within the dressing room and the panic that is beginning to set in among the fans.
“I think for us though at the end of the day — and if you ask Treliving this, he’ll say the same — we just have to find our game and get back on track and build momentum,” Giordano said. “So it starts tomorrow. We have been really up and down to start the year, but if you look at it, we’re right there in a good spot in the standings. It’s not like we are way out of it. So we have to focus on finding our game.”