After a 7-3 victory on Thursday night against the Vancouver Canucks, Toronto Maple Leafs head coach Sheldon Keefe told reporters that the greatest challenge this year is to beat the same team in back-to-back games.
On Saturday, the Leafs delivered.
By way of a three-point performance from forward Mitch Marner, Toronto (9-2-1) defeated Vancouver (6-9-0) for the second consecutive time at Scotiabank Arena, this time by a score of 5-1.
For Keefe, his vision of what he thought his team would look like this season is close to materializing.
“In terms of how we’re playing (right now), these last couple games are a little more of a reflection of that (vision),” Keefe said to reporters after his team’s victory on Saturday. “We think we’ve put together two good games here, having some good offensive pieces to our game.”
The Maple Leafs head coach previously described what the “greatest challenge” is for this campaign.
“The greatest challenge throughout this whole schedule is to beat the same team in back-to-back games.”
After its loss to the Leafs on Saturday, Vancouver has joined the Calgary Flames as the only teams to lose to Keefe’s team back-to-back times.
Toronto has defeated every team in its division at least once this season, the only team in the North Division to do so.
Maple Leafs forward Auston Matthews scored twice on Saturday, marking the seventh game in a row he has found the net.
Toronto’s bench boss admitted after his team’s victory that his top centre still surprises him with his ability to score highlight-reel goals.
“He does surprise me still, yet you expect something special because he’s capable of that, watching him practice everyday” said Keefe during the post-game media availability via Zoom.
The Maple Leafs have won six out of their last seven games, while avoiding losing in regulation during the stretch. The area to focus on moving forward — not allowing the players to get ahead of themselves.
“In the past when we’ve played well, we’ve kind of gotten away from what we did to get to that point. I think lately we’ve done a really good job at just sticking with it,” Matthews said to reporters via Zoom after his two-goal performance. “Not letting our foot off the gas and continuing with that pressure.”
Matthews was joined by Wayne Simmonds as a multi-goal scorer on Saturday.
“(Simmonds) really elevates our competitiveness with the way he plays and the way he leads this team,” Matthews stated. “It’s great to see him get into his spot and scoring goals. He’s been really good for us.”
Along with Simmonds, veterans Joe Thornton and Zach Bogosian were signed by the team’s brass to provide leadership, and Matthews believes the offseason additions have played a key part in the success of the group early on.
“All these guys that have come in have made an impact right away on everyone,” said Matthews. “It’s only been positive for us.”
In a season with so many format and scheduling changes, the Maple Leafs have made their case early on to be the team to beat in the North Division, as they sit at the top of the standings with 19 points in 12 games played.
Despite stating that the team is close to performing at the level he expected when he thought about his roster in the offseason, Keefe still think there’s room for improvement on the defensive side moving forward.
But at the same time, he acknowledges his team’s ability to prevent odd-man rushes, citing it, along with the offence, as the main positives of the group recently.
The Maple Leafs will conclude their three-game set with the Canucks on Monday night, before traveling to Montreal for the first time this season to battle the Canadiens.