There was a time on Monday night during the “Battle of Ontario” when the story of the game would have been about Joe Thornton’s return to the lineup — instead, it became about a team who surrendered a 5-1 lead.
For the first 38 minutes on Monday night, everything went right for the Toronto Maple Leafs — what followed was five consecutive goals from the Ottawa Senators (4-12-1) and a Toronto overtime loss.
What also followed was a candid assessment of the Maple Leafs (11-3-2) performance from head coach Sheldon Keefe.
“I thought we were really careless and sloppy with the puck,” Keefe said to reporters via Zoom after Toronto’s 6-5 loss to the rival-Senators. “We just gave the game to them at a time when they really had nothing happening.”
Even when the Maple Leafs seemed to be controlling the game, while holding on to a 5-2 lead after two frames, Keefe wasn’t as comfortable as one would suspect.
“Whether we won the game today or not, I said after the second period that it’s as bad as I’ve felt about a 5-2 lead probably that I’ve ever had,” said Keefe.
Toronto’s bench boss credits the Senators for their resilience in coming back and stunning his team, but at the same time, insists that they were handed the game by his players.
“Everything they got today, we gave them,” Keefe stated.
Monday’s loss marks the first time this season that the Maple Leafs have lost two games in a row.
Joe Thornton makes impact in return to lineup
After missing 10 games with a fractured rib, Thornton returned to the lineup on Monday, recording a goal and an assist.
Thornton’s two-point effort was no surprise for Auston Matthews.
“He’s easy to play with,” Matthews told reporters after Monday’s battle against the Senators. “He’s always buzzing on the bench, on the ice, off the ice. He just brings such good energy and he’s a treat to play with.”
Keefe previously told reporters during Thornton’s absence that the 41-year old centre is a key piece to the puzzle that makes his vision of the current group come to fruition.
“When you take someone like Joe (Thornton) out of our lineup, it changes a lot of things in terms of what we envisioned,” Keefe said to reporters on Feb. 6.
On Monday night, Thornton returned to his familiar place in the lineup, playing alongside Matthews and Mitch Marner. The trio contributed to two of Toronto’s five goals against Ottawa.
Prior to Monday, Thornton had not played since Jan. 20.
The former Boston Bruin and San Jose Shark signed a one-year deal with the Maple Leafs on Oct. 16.
Monday night marked the 390th time that Thornton has recorded at least two points in a single contest in his 23-year long NHL career.
“I felt great, I really did,” Thornton told reporters via Zoom after his first game since January. “I thought our line was moving the puck well, generating some offence.”
The Maple Leafs and Senators will continue their three-game set on Wednesday night.