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Toronto Maple Leafs’ Michael Grabner tries to skate by Ottawa Senators’ Cody Ceci at the Air Canada Centre on Oct. 10.Claus Andersen/Getty Images

The effort is there. You can see it.

The Toronto Maple Leafs battled back against Ottawa on Saturday, rallying from down 3-0 only 25 minutes into the game to force a wild three-on-three overtime.

The Leafs also rang up 41 shots on a Sens team that finished more than 30 points ahead of them in the standings last year.

They still lost – albeit in a shootout, the NHL's version of a coin flip.

"I thought our team, we did a lot of really good things," captain Dion Phaneuf said. "There's a lot of positives to build on."

"I thought we worked real hard," coach Mike Babcock added.

The Leafs have played three 2014-15 playoff teams to start the year and haven't been embarrassed. Two of the games could have gone either way. Their night in Detroit on Friday was the ugliest of the three, but a big part of the problem there (and generally) is they haven't been getting enough saves.

The Leafs went into a five-day Thanksgiving break on Sunday with a team save percentage of .871 and a No. 1 goalie in Jonathan Bernier who has looked like a No. 2, in both exhibition and his first two starts.

It certainly appears as though scoring will be hard to come by all year – with five goals in the first three games and few in preseason – which makes getting solid netminding all the more vital if they're going to hang in games.

But Babcock's message of never taking a shift off seems to be getting through to his skaters. The Leafs curious mix of veterans on short-term deals, unwanted holdovers from the last regime and a half dozen 25-and-under types has done reasonably well at pressuring the puck and maintaining possession in the offensive zone.

System-wise, they look nothing like they did under former coach Randy Carlyle.

That was goal No. 1 when Babcock took over, and it should keep them in more games than their talent level might indicate.

"I thought we carried a lot of the play," Babcock said of Saturday's game.

The Leafs have an oddly empty schedule in the coming weeks. They play only five games in the next 18 days, which will mean Babcock can further hammer home his message with plenty of detailed work in practice.

Despite the losses – the Leafs have dropped eight games in a row, going back to preseason – he is hardly discouraged by what he has seen so far.

Expectations for this team may be low elsewhere, but Babcock's remain high.

"You play with good structure," Babcock said of his vision for how this team will succeed. "You're organized. You don't cheat. You do things right. You play heavy – pretty soon you start to win all the time just because you do things good.

"We don't have to change the people. We've just got to change how we do it. Over time, suddenly, they'll look like real good hockey players. I thought they looked good at times tonight."