The Maple Leafs snapped a two-game losing streak with a 4-3 shootout victory over the Las Vegas Golden Knights Monday at Air Canada Centre. They're happy to get the two standings points and be back on the winning track, but don't take that to mean they're pleased with where their collective game is at right now.
Indeed, in his typically straightforward fashion, head coach Mike Babcock made it clear there's a good ways to go before his team is playing at its peak.
"I watched us last night - it wasn't exactly a perfect picture by any means," Babcock told Leafs Nation Network in advance of Wednesday's showdown with the Minnesota Wild at the ACC. "So we've got lots of work to do. We understand that. But I think adversity never killed anybody, and understanding how hard it is to win every day and how right you have to play to win every day is an important thing. I don't think we've got it yet, by any means, but I think it takes kids longer to learn than you'd like all the time. But they'll get it."
Still, Leafs players were focused on building off of the positive elements of Monday's win and leaving behind the disappointment of a tough West Coast road trip that saw Toronto drop three of four games.
"That was a big game for us," centre Tyler Bozak said of beating the Golden Knights, who were an impressive 9-4-0 heading into Monday's action. "Whenever you go out West on that trip, it's not going to be easy. I think if we would've been able to go .500 and come home, it wouldn't have been a terrible thing, if we were able to get that last game. But to play a very good team in Vegas and come out with a win, it's always a tough game after you get home from a long trip too, with time change and everything. You're a little off. So I thought we played well and they're a great team and they played well. It was a good game, and it was just nice to get two points."
"We didn't get too many points we wanted on the road, so coming back we knew obviously it was a big game to try to swing things back in our favour," added winger James van Riemsdyk, who scored his sixth goal of the season in Monday's win. "We found a way to get that done last night, so we have to keep building on that."
The Leafs made some roster tweaks Monday, loaning winger Kasperi Kapanen to the American League's Toronto Marlies and recalling centre Frederik Gauthier from the Marlies. Babcock also notably mixed up his lines at practice, but to a man, the Leafs weren't concerned about the effect playing with new linemates would have on their blueprint for success.
"On this team, you play with great players no matter what line you're on, and no matter who you're playing with," said winger Zach Hyman, who skated on a line in practice with van Riemsdyk and centre Patrick Marleau. "Patty Marleau's a great player, and it would be fun to play with him, and James is obviously also a great player…it'll be fun if we're together."
That said, don't be surprised if Babcock does more line-juggling, especially if health concerns require one or two players - most notably, centre Auston Matthews, who nearly missed Monday's game with what the Babcock described as "soreness" before playing - to sit out for a spell.
"We changed our minds six times and then we even got them posted, and then changed them again," Babcock said of his practice lines. "And (we'll) probably change them again before tomorrow. We'll see what happens, based on Matthews' situation. Whether he's in or not, that'll make the difference."