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Carter Verhaeghe, left, of the Florida Panthers and David Kampf, right, of the Toronto Maple Leafs battle for the puck at Amerant Bank Arena in Sunrise, Fla. on Oct. 19.Megan Briggs/Getty Images

That smooth start to the season that the Maple Leafs talked about has ground to a sudden halt. They’ve scored two goals combined in their past two games, both losses, the latest a 3-1 decision in Sunrise, Fla., on Thursday against the Panthers.

A 2-2 beginning is nothing to panic about – not yet, at least – but a few cracks have appeared in the foundation.

Toronto has given up the first goal in all four games. It ruined a mostly well-played first period against Florida by giving up a pair late.

“We weren’t good enough in the first,” said Calle Järnkrok, a forward who has been juggling lines. “It cost us the game. We have to be better right off the bat.”

The next opportunity comes on Saturday when the Maple Leafs visit the Lightning. They eliminated Tampa Bay in the opening round of last year’s playoffs but the Lightning remain a difficult opponent. And it is only the second of five successive road engagements, which also stops in Washington on Tuesday, Dallas on Thursday and Nashville on Oct. 28.

None are particularly easy.

The loss to the Panthers, who in 2023 knocked Toronto out of the second round, seemed a lot like those games last year. Ilya Samsonov was okay in the Maple Leafs net, but not as good as Sergei Bobrovsky.

Florida filled its rink and fans taunted the visitors with refrains of “We want Florida” – that’s what fans chanted at Scotiabank Arena last spring and we all know how that turned out. Five games and it was over.

The defence has actually played better in Toronto’s two losses than it did in two victories. Those were wild affairs won by scores of 6-5 and 7-4.

“I liked a lot about our game,” said the coach, Sheldon Keefe. “It was tight, fast and competitive, and I thought we did a nice job throughout defensively. We didn’t give up much at 5-on-5. We gave up two goals from distance and not much else other than that.

“The problem is we didn’t generate enough offence. If you don’t score, you don’t win. That is the way it works.”

Samsonov struggled in games one and two but was better against Florida. He was screened on both goals in the first period; the third came on an empty-netter.

“I didn’t see the first goal or the second either,” Samsonov said, and then joked, “I think maybe I need glasses.”

Then he was serious again: “We don’t have time for crying. We have too many games to play.”

So far Tyler Bertuzzi and Max Domi – gritty forwards who are also expected to contribute offence – have not done much. Bertuzzi is nursing an undisclosed injury and may sit out against the Lightning. Pontus Holmberg was called up Friday from the Toronto Marlies.

Domi had an impressive preseason and possesses all the attributes to become a fan favourite but has not looked comfortable. Fraser Minten, the feel-good story of the preseason, has yet to find the scoresheet and was limited to a dozen shifts against Florida. The 19-year-old centre has looked to be in over his head and appears destined soon for a return to the WHL.

There are a lot of new faces in the lineup and, of course, those players need a bit of time to adjust to their new surroundings. But they looked very good during training camp and exhibitions so it still comes as a surprise.

“We were a lot better defensively,” Mark Giordano said. “We did a lot of good things for sure.”

Not enough, however, and now the Maple Leafs head into their second of five games away.

Teams like lengthy road trips early in the season because they afford opportunities to bring everyone closer together.

Not so much if it is a bad one, however.

“When you look at the schedule, it’s always great to have a road trip earlier in the season,” Morgan Rielly said.

“Unless you don’t play well, and then it becomes a long trip.”

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