TORONTO – The Maple Leafs passed the 20-game mark of their regular season with a 5-4 loss to the New York Islanders on Wednesday, sliding into their second three-game losing streak of the year to sit at a record of 9-7-4.
But Leafs’ general manager Kyle Dubas liked much of what he saw in the defeat, telling reporters on Thursday that the game encapsulated what the team has done well this season, and what it still needs to improve.
“There were long stretches of the game at the start, and then in the second period as well, where we were excellent, where they didn’t really seem to be able to get out of their end because we were coming at them wave after wave on every shift,” Dubas said. “But then, when something doesn’t go our way, we don’t get a bounce or the puck bounces and it ends up in our net, [it’s] just not getting back on our heels and continuing to stay on our toes and stay in attack mode and being able to deal with that stuff better. That is what I look for.”
Dubas ran through a number of other topics surrounding the team in his first availability since training camp, including the Leafs’ backup goalie situation, how newcomers Cody Ceci and Tyson Barrie are fitting in and how he sees the team’s identity beginning to form.
On how the Leafs are handling some early adversity
“You always want to know how your group and your organization is going to react when things don't go perfect, and I think especially with the fact that this is still a young team, I think we still have to continue to learn how to go through this. There are teams in the league that handle [adversity] very well and they’re usually teams that have got a lot of collective experience together. So I think every time you go through a stretch where you maybe miss your expectation by a little bit or the puck is not going in or you're not winning as many games as you think you should, it gives you a great opportunity as a group to examine where you’re at and how we can deal with that better. That’s all that I really look for. I don’t get too up and down by any stretch.”
On whose responsibility it is to pull the team out of its current funk
“Whenever a team is at its best or whenever a team is trying to find its way, or whenever a team is having a tough stretch, it’s on the collective. It’s not up to any one person, or any one player, or any one coach or any one person, one member of the front office. It’s up to the collective group to forge its way through. I think that's what makes the most successful organizations. I don't look at it as being on any one person but all of us collectively to pull in the right direction.”
On the Leafs’ 3-2 loss to St. Louis on Oct. 7 being their best game of the season so far
“That's obviously a championship team that was at full strength at that time. I know we didn't win the game, but I think in terms of the way that we played, stuck with the way that we want to play, stuck with the system, that was probably the best one where I felt you get affirmation that, okay, this is the way that we’re built. We know that there are going to be times when it doesn't look great because we’re still evolving and growing, but we can play against a team that's built that way and play that way for 60 minutes and have a night like that. That would be the one game I think where it all came together.”
On handing backup goalie job to rookie Kasimir Kaskisuo
“Right now, we’re not [going to add anyone else]. I don’t think with Hutch that we played particularly well in front of him for stretches and made it difficult on him. It sucks for him because we feel we had to make a move and give Kasimir a chance because of the way that he played with the [AHL's Toronto] Marlies and he really earned that more than anything else. We know we don’t want to run [Frederik Andersen] into the ground. At the same time, if he’s in a groove we want him to continue to establish that and do right by him in the long run. But with Kaskisuo, he had an excellent second half of the Marlies [season last year] and then was excellent in the playoffs and he’s had an excellent start to the season. He just turned 26 years old, so he’s earned the opportunity and we'll let him run with it here and then evaluate from that point.”
On how Cody Ceci and Tyson Barrie have fit on the Leafs’ blueline
“Cody is an interesting one. I think it goes back to the war between data and subjective scouting [in that] he seems to be a very polarizing player. Even when everything underlying about him has been relatively solid, especially when you consider his usage [as a top-pairing defenceman who averages 22:19 of ice time per game], it seems to be every tiny thing that he does becomes a referendum on whether he's good or not, which is mind-boggling to me. Every defenceman that plays that much and plays in that role is going to [make] mistakes. I think he's been a good addition for us and has played above expectations from when we acquired him and we’re very happy with him.
[With] Tyson, we're 20 games in and I've got a lot of belief in him. He continues to show signs of what his form can be and what we knew when we were acquiring him [via trade with Colorado last July] and we just want him to continue to work and get comfortable here. I think in the last number of games he's shown more and more of that and I'm excited about the rest of the season for him.”
On whether the Leafs have established an identity after 20 games
“I would say it’s still in formation. It’s not a finished product by any stretch, and we're still trying to get there, but I think what we’re aiming to get towards is a team built on speed, built on talent, creativity, but also [being] tenacious when we don't have the puck. When you point to what you want the team to be about, [it’s] what do teams think when they're walking into your building? And I think we want to shift it away from the questions of ‘What do the Leafs need to do [better]?’ to ‘Here's what they are and here’s what we can expect,’ and we're right there and I think that’s on us to get there, for sure.”