Keefe calls out Maple Leafs’ sloppy play on opening night: ‘That’s unacceptable’

MONTREAL — Sheldon Keefe appeared much tighter than his team’s defence on opening night.

While some in the Toronto Maple Leafs‘ room chalked up their 4-3 blown-lead loss to last season’s 32nd-place team as a case of the October kinks, the last thing the head coach wanted to hear was an excuse.

“It was early-season sloppiness — but I don’t expect that. For everything our team has been through together, that’s unacceptable. We got to be way more responsible,” Keefe said, curtly.

“It was just careless. Just careless. I expect more. Our group should expect more. Not good enough. We deserve to lose.”

Keefe’s public intolerance for his group’s lack of detail and careless puck management on night one — particularly in the heightened moments of the third period, particularly after coughing up 1-0 and 2-1 leads — speaks to the pressure he personally and the Leafs at large are feeling entering another season as a contender.

Squandering points to a lesser roster, no matter the time of year, could have a negative effect on Toronto’s standings position come April.

Keefe and his staff drilled the players pre-game specifically on the dangers of the young and loose Montreal Canadiens’ transition game, how opportunistic snipers like Cole Caufield and Josh Anderson can pounce on the rush.

And then Toronto’s more veteran skaters took careless minor penalties and jammed plays into shinpads and chests, gifting odd-man rushes the other way.

The Leafs’ untimely recklessness in their own zone culminated in a brutal Jake Muzzin giveaway in the final 20 seconds. The veteran’s clearing attempt smacked the tape of Nick Suzuki, who fed Anderson for the one-timed winner.

The Leafs didn’t so much salvage an overtime point.

This after William Nylander tied the contest on a pretty 2-on-1 with John Tavares, 40 seconds after Sean Monahan had scored an emotional go-ahead goal for the home side.

A wild and entertaining climax, to be sure, but hardly the way a heavily favoured team should close things out.

“Tough one to swallow in the last few minutes,” Tavares said. “We give one up, we tie it, and we give one up again. So, disappointing.”

More so when you consider how many unclaimed points Toronto left on the table last season with its inability to stomp out non-playoff competition.

The Canadiens are a franchise smartly and unapologetically in rebuild mode. They didn’t win a single exhibition game. Their D corps has less than a third of the experience as Toronto’s. Three Habs conducted their rookie lap during Wednesday’s warmup, for goodness’ sake.

Yet when two points hung late in the Bell Centre air, the underdogs snatched them.

“When you’re not prepared to play the necessary way to win the game, you’ll lose — no matter who you’re playing,” Keefe stated.

“The young guys are always hungry to try and prove a point, especially these guys,” Mitch Marner added.

“These guys have a lot of Canadian guys on their roster. In Canada, Toronto is always a team that gets talked about a lot. Everyone is always excited to show out against us and prove a point.”

Matt Murray — the Maple Leafs’ Cup-winning gamble in net — still has something to prove.

He showed flashes early, then got beat clean on some good looks by sharpshooters late. His team did a much better job of protecting him post-game than in-game.

Keefe said they hung Murray out to dry with the giveaways, and he’s not wrong. But a .829 save percentage when your team outshoots the other guys 32-23 leaves room for improvement.

Specifically, Murray wanted Caufield’s second goal, sniped at distance, back.

“I just made a bad read. I probably should’ve taken an extra step there, just been a little bit more in his face,” Murray said. “It’s a good shot, but one that I probably should’ve had.”

The Maple Leafs can say the same for the victory they didn’t lock down on opening night.

Fox’s Fast Five

• So bizarre seeing Jason Spezza, coffee in hand, on the other side of the glass during an optional morning skate on game day. Expect to see the assistant to the GM attend many a road trip this season.

Fun seeing Spezza sharing a laugh with goalie-turned-commentator Patrick Lalime. A mini Senators reunion amid a Leafs-Habs event.

• Marner on Carey Price, whose knee may never allow him to play again, barring a miracle: “How he played would make it an insane game to try to win. The game misses him.”

• Why did Mark Giordano win the PP2 quarterbacking job over Rasmus Sandin to start?

“He has a lot of experience there,” Keefe explains. “We really like what he brought to that unit when he came in last season. He is a little more willing to shoot the puck from the top and does a good job there with that. When the second unit gets out there, they don’t have a lot of time. Having a little more of a shot mentality there is important.”

He’s not wrong.

Giordano averaged 2.01 shots per game last season. Sandin averaged 0.90.

• Montreal’s Jonathan Drouin will make $5.5 million as a member of the Montreal Canadiens this season, the final one on his contract.

He was a healthy scratch on opening night.

• Total games played by Toronto’s opening night blue line: 3,385

Total games played by Montreal’s opening night blue line: 932

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