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Loss to Depleted Penguins Puts Current Maple Leafs' Resolve to Ultimate Test

The Toronto Maple Leafs were blown out by a Pittsburgh Penguins team playing without most of their core players, leaving more questions than answers.

PITTSBURGH -- PPG Paints Arena has been home to many embarrassing losses for the Toronto Maple Leafs in recent memory. But Saturday's 7-1 defeat to an undermanned Pittsburgh Penguins team could be a new low.

"We're going to have to work a lot harder to win, it's inexcusable," Maple Leafs defenseman Jake Muzzin said. "Myself, everyone, we all need to be better."

The Maple Leafs fell to the San Jose Sharks 5-3 on Friday night with the finger pointed squarely on star players like Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner not able to find the back of the net. While that continued to be an issue on Saturday, the resolve of the team has been put into serious question.

"I think the intentions are there," Maple Leafs captain John Tavares explained. "Guys are trying to go out there and play a hard game and compete and wanting to do the right things that will lead to success. 

"But it's a very fine line in this league on being consistent and doing it each and every night."

The Penguins played without regulars Sidney Crosby (wrist), Evgeni Malkin (knee), Jeff Carter (COVID-19 protocol), Kris Letang (COVID-19 protocol) and Bryan Rust (lower-body). Yet, they still managed to score seven goals against the Maple Leafs. 

The game was competitive after one period with the game tied 1-1 with O'Connor and Toronto's Jason Spezza scoring goals. The Penguins scored twice in a span of 15 seconds early in the middle frame, including Mike Matheson's spin-o-rama goal that would make any NHL '94 player admire in awe. 

With Pittsburgh up 3-1, Keefe elected to call a timeout to settle his team down. 

It didn't work.

"Two pucks are in our net in a hurry, the game really changed from there," Maple Leafs head coach Sheldon Keefe said. "I didn't like how we managed it from that point on."

Immediately after the timeout, Maple Leafs defenseman Morgan Rielly had a turnover in his own zone that nearly set up another Penguins goal. The home team continued to press and made it 5-1 after two periods. 

Pittsburgh added two more goals with Michael Hutchinson in goal. He made 10 saves on 12 shots.

The Leafs fell to 2-3-1 this season and it's the first time they have had a points percentage below .500 in the regular season since Nov. 19, 2019 when the fell to 9-10-4. That night ended up being previous Maple Leafs head coach Mike Babcock's last stand as bench boss before Keefe took over the reins. 

Three days before Babcock's last game, the Maple Leafs fell to the Penguins 6-1 in Pittsburgh.

Six games into the regular season, a losing record is hardly a reason to panic, but it's a serious warning shot for a team that has to answer questions about the team's depth on a regular basis. Answer questions about the core four players of Matthews, Marner, Tavares and William Nylander's ability to take their game to the next level.

"It's easy to start doubting and questioning things when things aren't going your way," Keefe said. "The difficult thing to do is to dig in and recognize that the league is very good and [if] you cut corners one little bit, teams make you pay for it."

In the third period. Keefe elected to shuffle up his lines and he split Matthews and Marner up. It was the first time he has done that in a non-injury situation for an extended point in the game. It's not clear yet if that means the lines will be seriously shuffled up ahead of their next game on Monday against the Carolina Hurricanes, but between now and then, everything is on the table.

"We come out a little slow, we get our game goin', we give up a few, let them take over and we have no fight," said Muzzin who finished with a -3 on the night. "We got outworked, out-competed so we have to go to the drawing board."

Campbell looking at the positive

Jack Campbell had put up some solid numbers leading up Saturday's start. Despite giving up five goals on Saturday and doing some damage to his save percentage, he was hardly to blame for many of Pittsburgh goals that came in off odd deflections, like one off O'Connor's hip or several goals of Leafs defensemen.

"When I evaluate my game it's never on the result. It's just on the details of my game and you guys know how hard on myself that I am on a nightly basis," Campbell said. "So, I actually thought my details were there and felt good but you're never happy with that result."


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