TORONTO – Sheldon Keefe has seen growth in his team over the last week.
All those good vibes following a rocky start to the season aside, the Maple Leafs showed Tuesday there’s still a long road ahead.
Reilly Smith scored his second of the night 23 seconds into overtime as the Vegas Golden Knights came back from a goal down in the third period to extend their win streak to eight games with a 4-3 victory over Toronto.
The Leafs were in trouble following an ugly four-game slide that started with a 3-1 loss in Sin City on Oct. 24, but responded with a victory over Philadelphia last Wednesday before beating Boston — which had won seven in a row — at home and Carolina on the road during an impressive 22-hour run Saturday and Sunday.
“Tough stretch,” Keefe, Toronto’s head coach, said in the wake of Tuesday’s setback. “Three games in four nights against three elite teams. Five out of six points feels good.
“But tonight’s a sign that we’ve still got a ways to go in terms of managing the game, because that should be six points.”
The Leafs went to the power play up 3-2 with less than 10 minutes to go in regulation and a chance to seal it, but the No. 1 unit stayed out for 1:21 before a mistake at the offensive blue line led to a 2-on-1 that Smith buried for his sixth of the season.
“Got to do a better job of looking up there and keeping fresher guys on the ice,” said Toronto winger Mitch Marner, who had a goal and an assist, but was on the ice for the equalizer and winner.
“Especially that time of the game.”
Stopped by Erik Kallgren on one of three Vegas breakaways in the second, Reilly then took a pass from Shea Theodore in the three-on-three extra period and made no mistake with a backhand deke upstairs.
“Definitely not the easiest game,” said Kallgren, who faced five breakaways on 20 shots against. “Those chances, they just kind of come out of nowhere.
“They made us pay.”
Jack Eichel and Nicolas Roy had the other goals for first-place Vegas (12-2-0), while Logan Thompson made 28 saves. William Karlsson added two assists as the Knights picked up their first-ever victory in Toronto, giving them at least one win in every NHL city.
“Enjoying every minute of it,” Smith said of a winning streak that started at home against the Leafs. “We’re rolling with the punches and finding ways to win.”
Timothy Liljegren added his first two goals of the season for Toronto (7-4-3).
“Structure just wasn’t good enough,” said the defenceman. “We didn’t play hard enough.”
Down 2-1 after 20 minutes, Kallgren kept his team within one in the second with three breakaway stops to set the stage for Marner to tie things 2-2 with his third goal of the campaign on a great individual effort at 13:50.
Marner, who extended his point streak to seven games, then played the role of creator to give Toronto its first lead with a slick no-look pass to Liljegren for him to bag his second of the night at 16:56.
“What you expect from Mitchy,” Liljegren said. “Unreal pass.”
Vegas opened the scoring 45 seconds into the first after Leafs defenceman Rasmus Sandin turned the puck over.
William Carrier had his ensuing breakaway stopped by Kallgren, pressed into service with Matt Murray and Ilya Samsonov both injured, but the puck trickled through the Toronto goaltender and Roy was there for his fourth.
The Leafs responded at 5:05 when Liljegren scored his first in his third game after missing the start of the schedule following hernia surgery.
But he gave the puck away late in the period to set the table for Eichel’s sixth at 17:55 before Toronto grabbed hold of the proceedings in the second only to give it away late.
“You want to be an elite team,” Keefe said. “You need to be elite in managing games. You’ve got to close that game out.”
MURRAY GETTING CLOSER
Murray is scheduled to practice Wednesday — the goaltender’s first since injuring his groin/abductor on Oct. 15.
The 28-year-old was added in the summer along with Samsonov after Toronto waved goodbye to Jack Campbell and Petr Mrazek.
Samsonov carried the bulk of the load with Murray out, but suffered a knee injury Saturday.
Keefe said the netminder is considered week-to-week.
EICHEL’S RETURNS AGAIN
The 26-year-old centre will make his second trip to Buffalo on Thursday since last season’s trade.
Eichel was selected second overall by the Sabres — one spot behind Connor McDavid — at the 2015 draft, but never got close to a playoff spot.
“I wish all those guys the best,” Eichel said following the morning skate in Toronto. “I was a part of that organization for a lot of years and made a lot of great relationships.”
Leafs: Host the Pittsburgh Penguins on Friday.
Knights: Visit the Buffalo Sabres on Thursday.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 8, 2022.
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