The Maple Leafs dropped their first game of the pre-season.
They started well, playing a style that head coach Mike Babcock had been preaching. But the Sabres turned it on midway through the game and Toronto ran into issues that will be a focus of repair as training camp moves along.
“In the second period we didn't take care of the puck,” said Babcock. “And I thought we got away from our structure, got on our own page on our power play breakout instead of doing what we were supposed to do.”
Wins have a way of covering up issues. It’s a balancing act where some of the messages have a way of resonating when the team drops a game.
It was a needed dose of reality.
“I think everyone's been real optimistic and everything's great, and then a little reality therapy sets in,” added Babcock. “The great thing about hockey: It's a fair game and when you don't take care of the puck, you don't win very often.”
Among the players who impressed was Mitch Marner, appearing more comfortable compared to his pre-season debut.
“I think tonight I was a lot better than my first game and I kind of got the jitters out in the first game,” said Marner. “Tonight I kind of felt more at home and kind of more into my game. I thought I had a lot better game tonight than the first.”
Marner has been earning high praise from his teammates. He’s a longshot to make the big club, as was Morgan Rielly his first time at camp and many other top picks before him. But Marner has been impressing the players who’ve been in his spot before.
“You want to be a guy that looks like he can help the team and that’s what he’s done,” Rielly said. “He’s made some great passes. I think he’s got great vision. He’s probably one of the best passers here, right now. So that speaks volumes.”
“As a young guy, the more you play the more confident you're going to get with the puck,” said Nazem Kadri, a Leafs top draft pick that also played for the Hunter family in London. “Especially with his skill set, he can skate the puck through the neutral zone and make plays.”
A different group of players will get ready to take on the Montreal Canadiens on Saturday night. There were some talking points from Babcock that every player in that game will need to consider.
“I didn't think the guys that weren't NHLers hurt us tonight, so let's not kid ourselves there,” added Babcock. “Let's just understand what happened here tonight. In saying all that, that always happens. We got another game tomorrow and we'll play a different team tomorrow and that'll give us a good evaluation of what's going on.”