Young & reck­less

Maple Leafs can’t keep up this pace — and they shouldn’t

Sunday Sports - - SPORTS - STEVE SIM­MONS ssim­mons@post­media.com @sim­mon­ssteve

On open­ing night at the Air Canada Cen­tre, there was sound and cheers out­side, new lights and slo­gans inside and on the ice were the Maple Leafs — bril­liant and dar­ing and dumb and care­less and su­perb.

All on their way to a gi­ant vic­tory in a place where gi­ant vic­to­ries are now some­thing to look for­ward to.

Mitch Marner, mean­ing to say some­thing else, called his team empty-minded.

Mike Bab­cock, loved the big win on a big night, just not how they ac­com­plished it. They’ll talk about this on Sun­day morn­ing. Prob­a­bly on Mon­day morn­ing, too.

“We know we can score goals,” said Jake Gar­diner, who scored one goal, set up an­other in the 8-5 win over the New York Rangers, that sent Hen­rik Lundqvist, an even­tual Hall of Fame goal­tender, to the bench af­ter one pe­riod of play, a mock­ing cheer from the crowd, and five goals against.

“We know we can de­fend,” said Gar­diner.

Now all they have to do is show it.

What they need to do af­ter two games and two wins and all that speed scor­ing 15 goals al­ready is not trade chance for chance, not play run-and-gun, not give up so much of the ice, the way they did in the first pe­riod of the opener against Win­nipeg and in the sec­ond pe­riod Satur­day night against the Rangers.

One minute it was 5-1 this is easy, gig­gly, Leafs are un­stop­pable stuff. And a pe­riod later it was 5-5, hold your breath, back­ing up, how did this hap­pen?, And can you hang on to win this game?

If there is such a thing, this looks like Don Co­ryell hockey in the early sea­son.

The tal­ent and speed the Leafs can throw at the op­po­si­tion is, we know, breath­tak­ing. And while Fred­erik An­der­sen can play the Grant Fuhr part for the 80s Ed­mon­ton Oil­ers while they learn how to win Stan­ley Cups, this isn’t Glen Sather coach­ing: This is Bab­cock. He won’t set­tle for 8-5. He’d rather have 8-2. The only thing he ad­mires more than tal­ent is or­der. Tal­ent he has. Or­der he needs. “We have to stick with the process,” said James van Riems­dyk, who like the rest of his team­mates is stunned yet not shocked by the 15 goals scored in two games. This isn’t sus­tain­able. But what the Leafs can do al­most ev­ery night is out-skill their op­po­nents. Next up for the un­beaten Leafs: out-think­ing them.

The Leafs won Satur­day night and Aus­ton Matthews re­ally didn’t play the part of dif­fer­ence maker, Marner was mis­take filled and too of­ten tried to per­son­ally over­come his dif­fi­cult night, and the Tyler Bozak line, with Marner and van Riems­dyk, per­fectly rep­re­sented the ebb and flow of the home opener.

They were mi­nus-3 through two pe­ri­ods, out­played most of the night. And then Bozak tipped the win­ning goal past On­drej Pav­elec on a lovely pass from Gar­diner.

The shut­down line of Nazem Kadri, Leo Ko­marov and Pa­trick Mar­leau ended with third pe­riod goals from Ko­marov and Kadri, and four points com­bined from the pair. In the first pe­riod, Zach Hy­man scored twice, in­clud­ing an in­cred­i­ble and un­ex­pected deke on Lundqvist.

Leafs were get­ting of­fence from al­most ev­ery­one but those they ex­pect the most of­fence from.

That’s what this team can do. Now they have to learn to elim­i­nate the kind of first pe­riod and al­most cost them in Win­nipeg and the sec­ond pe­riod that al­most cost them the win over the Rangers. “It wasn’t our best night,” said Gar­diner. It wasn’t and yet they scored eight goals.

That’s what makes this team so much fun, so fas­ci­nat­ing and yet so chal­leng­ing. They can score and they can score fast. They can fall apart and then find a way to come back. They can score eight and get an off night from their lead­ing scorer.

At the end of two pe­ri­ods, the 5-1 lead was gone and the game was tied at five. Bab­cock could have gone into the dress­ing room and done the yell at the team thing. Some coaches might have done that but the Leafs are blessed. Bab­cock isn’t some coaches.

He told them the game was tied and in­stead of look­ing back, look for­ward to the third pe­riod and win the damn game.

They out-scored the Rangers 3-0 in the third, scor­ing an even strength goal and two on the power play. They ended the night with five goals 5-on5, three on the power play, and no shots at the empty net. They could have scored nine.

“I don’t think we can keep this pace go­ing,” said Gar­diner.

About that, he is cor­rect. The win­ning, though, that can con­tinue. That’s a good thing.

JACK BOLAND/TORONTO SUN

Maple Leafs for­ward Wil­liam Ny­lan­der car­ries the puck out of his own zone dur­ing the third pe­riod against the New York Rangers last night at the ACC. Toronto im­proved to 2-0 with its 8-5 home-open­ing vic­tory, and has now scored 15 goals in two games.

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