Sheldon Keefe wanted a response on Saturday night.
The Maple Leafs coach got one, all right.
The Leafs didn’t resemble the club that was disorganized in a loss to the Ottawa Senators 24 hours earlier, keeping the puck for much of the evening in a 3-2 win at the Canadian Tire Centre.
Not only did the Leafs outshoot the Senators 40-19, the shot attempts at during five-on-five play were 56-22 in favour of Toronto.
Ottawa spent little time in the Leafs’ end and when it did, had little luck pressuring goaltender Jack Campbell.
“We were harder on battles, tougher on pucks, quicker to close, I thought our handoffs were good,” defenceman Jake Muzzin said. “(Campbell) played a hell of a game, made some big saves for us. All those things come together and it turns out to be the difference in the game.”
Of the Sens’ 19 shots on goal, a mere 14 were during five-on-five.
With no exhibition games, getting a grip on the defensive tightening has been a longer process for the Leafs.
Jason Spezza was 10-0 in the faceoff circle. John Tavares was 9-2 … Brodie acknowledged that the impact of playing during a pandemic while trying to get accustomed to new teammates is difficult to work around. There’s not the usual opportunities for players to get to know their new pals, and that can influence what happens on the ice. “It’s definitely different, something that no one is used to,” Brodie said. “It’s a matter of making the effort around the room to talk to guys and get to know them that way. The best way to do it is to have guys get together for dinner somewhere away from the rink (which can’t happen now). You have to make do with what you have.” … The Leafs are going to get a well-rested Winnipeg Jets club on Monday night at Scotiabank Arena — or a rusty one. After a scheduled day off on Friday, the Jets, who have played only one game, cancelled practice on Saturday because of potential exposure to the coronavirus. The Leafs have Sunday off.
“For sure,” Muzzin said. “Especially when you have new guys coming in. They have different tendencies and they’re learning a new system and sometimes things aren’t just automatic, they take a little bit of time to get into it. We will continue growing.”
The chemistry the Leafs consistently want in five-man units was evident.
“We had the puck a lot and when we didn’t, we were above it very quickly and we got it back quite quickly,” Keefe said. “It was not perfect, at times. They had some looks at our net, and we want to do a better job of picking up coverage, but we were in and out of our end pretty quick and that helps a great deal.”
Joe Thornton celebrating his first goal with Leafs like it was his first in the NHL — how can that not rub off on the rest of the team? For the record, it was Thornton’s 421st NHL goal in his 1,639th game. And what a play by Mitch Marner, corralling the puck with the shaft of his stick in taking a pass from TJ Brodie, and then dropping to Thornton … The goal by Thornton at 14:17 of the first erased a 1-0 Ottawa lead, an advantage gained by the Senators even though the Leafs had been better to that point. Nick Paul, solid on Friday, beat Campbell with a high shot, with assists from former Leafs Nikita Zaitsev and Connor Brown … And hands up, all none of you, who had Thornton scoring this season before Marner and Auston Matthews, and not until the third game. Even Keefe chuckled and said he wasn’t sure it was Thornton who would score first among the three … Talk about a tough break for Nick Robertson, who suffered a knee injury in the first period on a check by Drake Batherson. From his initial shift, Robertson’s jump and determination was clear, and we noticed him more than we did Alexander Barabanov, the man he replaced in the lineup, in the first two games. An MRI is next for Robertson … Marner, strong and nifty throughout the evening, gobbled up a Matthews faceoff win to give Toronto a 2-1 lead at 1:10 of the second … Ottawa didn’t register a shot on goal during a two-man advantage in the second period that lasted one minute 20 seconds, though Josh Norris missed an open net … It was the first time in his five NHL seasons that it took Matthews three games to score his first goal. In every other season, Matthews scored in the opening game. Matthews took a cerebral feed from Marner, and then used Wayne Simmonds as a screen to beat Matt Murray for a power-play goal in the third … Much more sound than on Friday night: The Leafs defence pair of Morgan Rielly and Brodie … No surprise that Tim Stuetzle’s first NHL goal was of the highlight-reel variety, coming when the Sens rookie blasted a one-timer past Campbell in the third. Not long after, during an Ottawa power play, Campbell made a large save on Evgenii Dadonov. Said Campbell of the Stuetzle goal: “I want to shake his hand. That was a heck of a play. What a young talent.”