Gifted with the softest schedule one could possibly imagine to start the season, the Maple Leafs bumbled the opportunity away and head into November with just four wins through 10 games.
They returned to Toronto early Monday from a rancid trip that ended with four successive defeats, the final three to San Jose, Los Angeles and Anaheim. The Ducks had lost seven in a row and trailed 3-1 in the third period but went on to win in overtime – and that after they had a goal overturned that should not have been.
The Maple Leafs should have come back from California beaming – say at 7-2-1 or so – but instead are a hot mess at 4-4-2. Even at that, their record is misleading. They have played far more poorly than it shows. Four of their losses have come against opponents that have won 12 of 38 games.
At this point, Justin Holl has one more goal than Justin Bieber and more holes than a doughnut. Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner have five goals and 12 assists combined – four fewer goals and one fewer point than Connor McDavid. Jack Campbell has struggled early on with the Oilers but he still has a higher save percentage (.888) than Erik Kallgren (.875) and Matt Murray (.826).
We are only one-eighth of the way into the 2022-23 campaign and the HMS Overhyped is already taking on water.
If this were Bugtussle it would be no big deal. But Toronto isn’t a hockey outpost. The faithful who have grown used to an annual collapse are already twitchy.
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Marner, who committed two turnovers that were transformed into Anaheim goals, was benched for one shift and scooted down the tunnel and trashed a stick. Afterward he talked about the team having a worse start last year and how they quickly turned the season around.
“We are going to block out the outside noise,” Marner said. “We will stick with our programming.”
There are calls for Sheldon Keefe, the head coach, to be fired. Same with Kyle Dubas, the general manager. Sooner or later Leafs president Brendan Shanahan, who oversees the entire operation, will also be a target.
Even if it is deserved, only in Toronto does this happen 10 games into a season.
It is a franchise that is haunted by its failures. Sooner or later the good will that has been built up turns to frustration.
Beyond the top players, the Maple Leafs’ roster is not spectacular. Its defence remains a problem. So far, its offence has been one, too. Ilya Samsonov has been good in the net, but behind him there is Swiss cheese.
It makes it harder when fans look around the league and see Nazem Kadri flourishing in Calgary and Zach Hyman whooping it up in Edmonton. Hyman has six goals and five assists in nine games. He would be the Leafs’ scorer leader.
The next game is Wednesday, when the Philadelphia Flyers visit Scotiabank Arena. They are 5-2-1 but unlikely to make the playoffs. Toronto has sky-high aspirations but is currently in next-to-last place in the Atlantic Division. Another lousy performance could prove to be a tipping point.
“These things are tough to turn around and get out of,” Morgan Rielly, who has yet to score, said after Sunday’s loss. “It’s important not to lose your direction, to keep working and not give up.
“You can get frustrated all you want but it is not going to help anything.”
One night earlier, after losing in Los Angeles, he said, “This is a great opportunity for our team to prove our character, to compete, and to respond.”
It didn’t and it hasn’t, and there is a gnawing suspicion that we are seeing the same-old same-old here.
“This is just the adversity that you have to go through in a season,” Matthews said.
It’s not so much adversity as it is self-inflicted.