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Rick Zamperin: Toronto Maple Leafs’ struggles are grossly exaggerated

Toronto Maple Leafs defenseman Morgan Rielly is seen during third period action against the Minnesota Wild in Toronto, on Tuesday, October 15, 2019.
Toronto Maple Leafs defenseman Morgan Rielly is seen during third period action against the Minnesota Wild in Toronto, on Tuesday, October 15, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young

For all the so-called hockey experts who are predicting the demise of the slumping Toronto Maple Leafs, I can’t help but refer them to literary icon Mark Twain’s famous quip, “the reports of my death are greatly exaggerated.”

Twain’s actual quote, written in response to a report in the New York Journal in 1897 that said he was dying in poverty in London, said, “The report of my death was an exaggeration.”

Aside from the history lesson, the quote — either one — is an accurate depiction of the thoughts that some people have about the 5-4-2 Maple Leafs, whose struggles are grossly exaggerated.

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Perhaps after making star forwards Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner two of the highest-paid players in the National Hockey League it was expected that Toronto would win nearly every game this season.

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Of course, I’m being facetious.

After the Leafs lost 4-2 in Boston on Tuesday night, Matthews told reporters who had gathered in the dressing that “we need to be better” and they were “just not good enough.”

Expectations are certainly sky high in the centre of the hockey universe and it is understandable that some people want to throw shade on a talented team that has lost three of its last four games and has won less than half its games so far.

Consider this: three of Toronto’s four losses this season have come in the second game on back-to-back nights with backup goalie Michael Hutchinson in net. Two of those losses came on the road and two of them were one-goal games, including a shootout loss against the Montreal Canadiens on Oct. 5.

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Yes, I agree that the Maple Leafs can, and should, play better.

The team’s next opportunity to do so comes Friday night when Toronto hosts San Jose in Patrick Marleau’s first game back at Scotiabank Arena since he rejoined the Sharks earlier this month. It will also be San Jose’s second game in as many days.

The Leafs will then visit the Habs on Saturday night at the Bell Centre, and if I had the ear of Toronto coach Mike Babcock I’d recommend he give starting goalie Frederik Andersen the nod in both games and see how they fare.

Exploring the evolution of the Toronto Maple Leafs over the last 35 years
Exploring the evolution of the Toronto Maple Leafs over the last 35 years

The biggest challenge the Maple Leafs are having to deal with in this season’s early going is the host of new faces that are in the lineup. With more than half a dozen new players on the ice, as well as two new assistant coaches behind the bench, it is obvious that they’re still figuring each other out and that takes time.

The sooner they can come together as a team, the better the Leafs will start playing.