ANAHEIM – Those boos ringing in the ears of the Maple Leafs have nothing to do with Halloween.
ANAHEIM – Those boos ringing in the ears of the Maple Leafs have nothing to do with Halloween.
But all the bats in their belfry during this continuous sluggish start could haunt coach Sheldon Keefe and general manager Kyle Dubas as the team limps home on a four-game losing streak.
It was capped in monstrous fashion on Sunday, a 4-3 overtime defeat to the Anaheim Ducks, who‘d not won in seven straight, a match Toronto led all night, including 3-1 at one stage with a penalty-shot chance to extend it.
Add that collapse to earlier defeats against lesser lights Arizona, Montreal and, on this trip, San Jose and Los Angeles and there is further doubt cast on this new-look roster that Dubas constructed and Keefe is trying to tame.
Dubas was requested for interviews after the game by various Toronto media outlets, but declined.
After 10 days away, the Leafs will have time off, a Tuesday practice and an improved Philadelphia Flyers club visiting Wednesday.
Outside Scotiabank Arena, expect little support or sympathy for the GM and coach, who needed a good start this month to cleanse memories of another spring playoff defeat.
“We’re used to dealing with noises,” Keefe said with a shrug of the rough reception that awaits.
On his own fate if the losses mount, he added: “I just want to focus on what I can do here. I have a job to do with the group and the group has responded in the past.”
But the Leafs appear to be pinning too much on simply repeating what occurred a year ago when they won just two of their first seven, then took off to 115 points. Sunday’s setback dropped them to 4-4-2 and this is a new crew that might — or might not — consolidate.
“I still think (confidence) is very high,” alternate captain Mitch Marner said, while taking the blame for a couple of puck decisions that the Ducks capitalized on. “We started off a lot worse last year and everyone tried to put shambles in our brains. It’s outside noise, it’s big in Toronto. It’s not going to happen with us.”
Trevor Zegras’ second goal of the game beat Erik Kallgren at 2:15 of the extra period after Marner was stopped just short while left alone on John Gibson’s doorstep and tried to deke the Ducks netminder.
What would’ve been Anaheim’s go-ahead goal in the final minutes of regulation was waved off for goaltender interference, but the Leafs had plenty of chances to clinch in regulation, as well as Marner and Auston Matthews in OT.
Standards for Toronto have certainly slipped when playing a 1-6-1 team can be labelled ‘must-win’, but the result failed to take heat off Keefe and Dubas.
The Leafs are still having trouble generating goals and integrating new cast members, though two of those, Denis Malgin and Calle Jarnkrok, scored Sunday.
The Leafs just couldn’t let good, sustained effort elapse without some kind of self-inflicted wound. One was committed by Filip Kral, in his second NHL game and looking good until he tried to put a pass through Derek Grant at centre just as the middle period ended. It required Kallgren to make a breakaway save and Matthews to take a slashing call.
Toronto did turn that into its first short-handed strike of the year, a TJ Brodie stretch pass that Alex Kerfoot and Jarnkrok converted early in the third period.
Shortly thereafter, Kerfoot had a breakaway hampered enough to warrant a penalty shot, but found no room on Gibson as he came in too tight and shot wide.
Moments later, Zegras capitalized on a Marner turnover at the Anaheim blue line after being sent in for a breakaway backhand deke against Kallgren. The Leafs went with their No. 2 goalie, who, like Ilya Samsonov in Los Angeles the afternoon before, endured errors by his mates at key junctures.
Anaheim tied it 3-3 when defenceman Dmitry Kulikov poked the puck past John Tavares, circled the net and beat Kallgren on the wraparound.
The Leafs have tallied just nine goals in the past four losses.
“All losses suck,” Keefe said of the manner they frittered away Sunday’s lead. “In the second period, we looked a lot more like we can be. We’ve struggled in our own end, then you have a lot of tired people on the ice who can’t get off and it snowballs. A huge shorthanded goal to start the third, then you give them life back.”
William Nylander and Marner set up Matthews for a quick flick at 4:23, giving him two goals on the trip.
The revamped second line of Kerfoot, Tavares and Jarnkrok thought it had scored soon after, Kerfoot half-raising his stick, but the puck skittered wide of an empty net. As Kerfoot looked skyward, Jakob Silfverberg cashed in at the other end.
Toronto regained the lead before the period ended, thanks to another ad hoc line, Nick Robertson and Nylander setting up Malgin, who moved across to the right side with Nylander shifted to centre.
“We didn’t get off to a great start last year, it’s not what we’re looking for this year,” Tavares said between the L.A. and Anaheim matches. “Every game we’ve had a chance to win. Have we played to our capabilities yet? I don’t believe so.”
Canada coach John Herdman is disputing his Croatian counterpart’s account of why there was no handshake after their World Cup game.
Herdman had antagonized the Croatian camp with a heated postgame message to his players after Canada’s opening 1-0 loss to Belgium at the soccer showcase. Asked in a pitch-side interview what he had said in a postgame huddle to his players, Herdman replied: “I told them they belong here and we’re going to go and eff – Croatia. That’s as simple as it gets.”
That prompted a stern lecture from Croatia coach Zlatko Dalic on the need for respect. And after Croatia beat the Canadians 4-1 Sunday, Dalic was asked if he had a chance to shake hands with Herdman following the final whistle.
“I did not see the other head coach after the match,” he said through an interpreter. “When I lose I always congratulate the winner. He was not there and that’s his way of doing things. He’s obviously mad. He is a good coach. He is a high-quality professional. But it will take some time for him to learn some things.”
Herdman, whose postgame news conference preceded Dalic’s on Sunday, disputed that account Wednesday when asked about it.
“Look, we shook hands before the game. So that happened,” he said. “At the end of the game, the usual process – no different than [with Belgium coach] Roberto Martinez. You shake hands with the coach, then you go shake hands with the referee.
“When I turned round, [Dalic] was already off down the touchline, which is his right to do. He’s celebrating. He’s just beaten Canada. It was a big celebration for him. He was off and I couldn’t get to shake his hand. I went into the field, shook the ref’s hand, shook players’ hands. And didn’t get to see him.
“That moment’s gone. We’re into process now – team huddle, see your fans, flash interviews, calm yourself down so you don’t say anything and move on.”
Second-half goals from Alexis Mac Allister and Julian Alvarez cap a return to form for the South American giants.
Argentina coasted past Poland in a 2-0 victory on Wednesday night to top Group C and confirm their place in the last 16 of the World Cup, signalling a return to form for the South American giants after a poor start to this year’s tournament.
Alexis Mac Allister and Julian Alvarez’s second-half goals capped a dominant display by coach Lionel Scaloni’s charges at Stadium 974 – which was packed to the rafters with tens of thousands of raucous Argentinian supporters – to set up a clash with Australia on Saturday.
After a goalless first 45 minutes, Mac Allister got on the end of Nahuel Molina’s cross just one minute into the second period and, despite making weak contact, he saw his shot creep over the line with Polish keeper Wojciech Szczesny beaten.
The second goal was the result of patient buildup play which saw Argentina shift the ball around before Enzo Fernandez made a defence-splitting pass for Julian Alvarez, who found space in the box and smashed it into the top corner to effectively kill the game in the 67th minute.
Poland were lifeless throughout but managed to also squeeze through to the knockout phase on goal difference at the expense of Mexico, who beat Saudi Arabia 2-1 in Group C’s other match.
They will meet defending champions France in the last 16 on Sunday.
The first half’s defining moment came in the 39th minute when Argentina captain and talisman Lionel Messi failed to convert from the penalty spot on his record-breaking 22nd World Cup match, one more than the late Diego Maradona managed for La Albiceleste.
Poland were up in arms when Argentina were awarded the penalty after a VAR check for a foul on Messi when Szczesny’s glove brushed his face as the Paris St Germain forward rose up for a header at the far post.
But Szczesny was up to the task and despite the Argentina fans raising the decibel levels inside the arena, he kept his composure and guessed correctly, diving to his left and using one hand to swat aside Messi’s effort.
Not to be deterred, Messi never stopped surging forward and he was a menace to Poland all throughout the game with his dribbling ability and vision.
His glittering performance stood in stark contrast to that of Poland’s star striker Robert Lewandowski, who was deprived of service and virtually anonymous for the duration of the match.
Messi, 35, has admitted this will likely be his last World Cup outing while Lewandoski, 34, has said he is unsure if he will make it to the 2026 edition in North America but would like to do so.
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