Maple Leafs can silence critics only by winning, GM says

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TORONTO — The Toronto Maple Leafs can silence their critics only by winning, general manager Kyle Dubas said.

“I don’t think anybody wants to hear any words [from us],” Dubas said Friday, two days after the Maple Leafs (3-4-1) won for the first time in five games. “I think it’s all in our actions and how we play, our focus, our work ethic, our attention to detail. The four games where we didn’t play well at all, everyone saw it, there’s no reason to run or hide from it but I think everyone is tired of hearing from us about what we are going to do and how we are going to do it.”

Prior to their 3-2, come-from-behind win in overtime against the Chicago Blackhawks on Wednesday, tensions were high with the Maple Leafs off to their worst seven-game start in Dubas’ four seasons as GM and having been outscored 18-6 during an 0-3-1 stretch.

“We’ve generally always started well here,” Dubas said. “This wasn’t the start we envisioned having, but my hope is we are able to use this to endure some difficulty, question marks and criticism and learn how to deal with it well to help propel us forward.”

Captain John Tavares said that with Toronto trailing 2-0 entering the second period Wednesday, forward Wayne Simmonds gave an impassioned speech that aided in the comeback.

“There’s always points where you just need more from the group,” Tavares said. “Simmonds was the one who set the tone for us there, and that’s what he embodies with his play. We were disappointed being in that spot again, and it got our minds right and we challenged each other to be a lot better.”

The Maple Leafs begin a five-game homestand when they face the Detroit Red Wings (4-2-1) on Saturday (7 p.m. ET; CBC, BSDET, ESPN+, NHL LIVE).

“It’s on us now to show what we are made of and build off the comeback on Wednesday and start to stack wins together,” said Dubas, who in September acknowledged that his job may be in jeopardy if the Maple Leafs again fail in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. 

Toronto has lost five consecutive postseason series, following seasons each with a points percentage of at least .579 and finishing no lower than third place in their division. The Maple Leafs last won the Stanley Cup in 1967.

Toronto’s key forwards can help by producing more. Tavares scored Wednesday, and Auston Matthews and Mitchell Marner each had an assist. Prior to that, Tavares scored three points (one goal, two assists) in seven games this season; Matthews scored one goal in four games; and Marner had one assist in seven games.

The Maple Leafs power play is 0-for-17 in the past six games and 3-for-25 (26 percent) this season, tied for 26th in the NHL with the Seattle Kraken.

Tavares said there is much work to be done.

“We got a big two points (Wednesday), but there’s no question we have to tighten our game up,” Tavares said. “It’s not the effort and commitment but some of our execution in certain areas defensively with the access to our net has to get better. It’s too frequent relying on our goaltending.”

Coach Sheldon Keefe shuffled the defense pairings in practice Friday; Morgan Rielly played with Travis Dermott, Jake Muzzin with T.J. Brodie, and Rasmus Sandin with Timothy Liljegren. Justin Holl, who is minus-7 with no points in seven games, is expected to be a healthy scratch against the Red Wings.

“We just haven’t played well enough defensively as a team,” Keefe said. “That includes the forwards, but just the [defenseman] core has not played well enough. It’s not just Justin Holl, but he has not played near his level that we’ve come to expect. … We wanted to move some things around and see how that looks.”

Goalie Petr Mrazek, who hasn’t played the past six games because of a groin injury, is expected to start against Detroit.

Practice ended with Keefe announcing to the team that Rielly had signed an eight-year, $60 million contract ($7.5 million average annual value), which led to a roar of approval and Rielly’s teammates mobbing the 27-year-old to celebrate.

“I told Sheldon not to say anything, but that was fun,” Rielly said. “It’s a good feeling when you’re around your friends and they feel happy for you.”

Tavares said that moment was what the Maple Leafs needed.

“That was a big pick-me-up after a day off and getting back from the road,” Tavares said. “It was a great way to end practice.”

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