KANATA, Ont. -- Toronto Maple Leafs head coach Sheldon Keefe wasn't ready to shower his team with praise following his team's 3-2 overtime victory against the Ottawa Senators at Canadian Tire Centre on Thursday.
It not that he wasn't pleased with picking up two points in the standings while collecting back-to-back victories for the first time in over three weeks. The issue is that the basement dwellers of the North Division hung around, despite Toronto's plethora of chances to put the game away early.
"We had a ton of opportunities in the hockey game," Keefe said. "We were in alone, we had power-play opportunities (and) didn't make good on those chances."
The Leafs dominated the opening period against the Senators. They had ten slot shots on net in the frame compared to three from the Senators.
But it was Ottawa who held a 1-0 lead going into the first intermission.
Jack Campbell, who made back-to-back starts for the first time this season, came out from his net to play a puck from behind the net. He mishandled it when Ottawa's Chris Tierney skated at him unabated. Tierney pried the puck loose and centered a pass to Connor Brown, who scored into a wide-open net for a shorthanded goal at 18:53.
Toronto had three power plays in the frame. They went 0-for-4 on the night and have scored just once in their last 21 opportunities with the man advantage.
A symptom of the lack of power-play success has been a lack of scoring from their top players. Auston Matthews has three goals in his last 10 games since returning from a lingering wrist injury. He had three shots on goal against the Senators and looked good in every other aspect of his game, except he didn't score and was just 40 percent from the faceoff circle.
Toronto's production in regulation time came exclusively from the team's bottom-six forwards. Ilya Mikheyev directed a puck off his shoulder and past Senators goaltender Anton Forsberg at 14:40 of the second period. Toronto took the lead when Jason Spezza's quick snipe from a distance beat Forsberg at 10:41 of the third period.
The Leafs appeared to have found their groove following Spezza's tally, only to have the Senators tie it up on another turnover started by the goaltender.
"I still beat myself up over those; they just can't go in," said Campbell, "I'm still a competitor, I'm still human, so when that happens, I'm not happy with myself."
The last giveaway was of little fault to Campbell, who was otherwise stellar in goal. Officials waved off what looked like an icing from Braydon Coburn's dump-in from beyond the red line. With the Leafs trailing the Sens attack, Campbell was left with no choice but to play the puck.
The end result was a turnover resulting in a goal for Alex Formenton.
"I thought it was going to be an icing because we missed it and obviously the Senators players were there first," Justin Holl said of the sequence. "Soup went out to play it, which I thought was the right choice. Unfortunately, it just rattled around right there for the guy to put it away."
Apart from his two miscues, Campbell bailed out his team in a seemingly real-time audition for the starter's net. He made several timely saves, including a difficult 2-on-1 stop from point-blank range and another pad save on Ottawa's Brady Tkachuk in the second period.
Campbell improved to 5-0-0 this season and has posted an impressive .958 save percentage. He's expected to continue to get the net with starting goaltender Frederik Andersen out day-to-day with a lower-body injury.
Holl scored the winner in a wild sprint to the finish. The Senators appeared to have a 3-on-1 set to go the other way when Ottawa's Thomas Chabot's attempted pass went right to Matthews, which in turn set up a scoring chance for Toronto. Holl pinched in to pick up a rebound and scored with just 17.6 seconds remaining in overtime.
But Keefe didn't want to laud the achievement in the overtime session.
"I'll be honest, I don't like to comment on overtime (because) I think it's such chaos," Keefe said.
Instead, it's right back to work to fix issues that a long stretch of days off didn't quite fix.
The Leafs played just two games in ten days before their game in Ottawa. The coach mentioned earlier in the week that the compacted schedule this season hadn't allowed for the team to work on systems and other issues that a regular schedule of practices can afford.
They finally got that time. But the power-play, which looked unbeatable early in the season, is still an issue. So is the lack of production from the team's star forwards.
Sure, Spezza and Mikheyev scored and that's great for Toronto's depth.
But the most skilled forwards have to produce if the team is going to make a run in the post-season.
Thursday's game marked the beginning of a stretch of 24 games in 45 days before the playoffs. It's evident that Keefe isn't going to be content with his team edging out marginal victories
The team needs to produce and show some separation. They squeaked out two points. But it's only going to get tougher from here.