It wasn’t the way Sheldon Keefe would have planned the second anniversary of his hiring as head coach of the Maple Leafs.

But he has certainly come out with grudging respect for the Pittsburgh Penguins, the first team to beat the Leafs twice this season after a 2-0 decision Saturday night at Scotiabank Arena.

Jake Guentzel and Jeff Carter gave Pittsburgh a two-goal lead in the first period and never looked back as the Leafs’ big stars struggled to create scoring opportunities.

“I think our guys loved him so much. We just lost to a good team that played better than us, ”Keefe said. “We got what we deserved in terms of our offense. We just didn’t do enough on the offensive. “

Toronto’s five-game winning streak came to an end. Despite the loss, Keefe’s record, 74-35-13, is still pretty good. It’s a 65.9 percent winning point percentage, the best in franchise history and the second-best in league history among coaches with at least 100 games.

The 74 wins rank 16th on the Leafs list, one behind Roger Neilson and two behind Paul Maurice. The team feels lucky to have him.

“His ability to articulate the game and the way he wants us to play, or prepare for our opponent, is as good advice as I’ve seen from a coach as a player,” Leafs center John Tavares said. “He understands our group, especially the guys who have been here for a few years, and he will continue to push us and try to find a way to keep fighting at a high level and get where we want to go.”

But Saturday’s effort fell far short of what Keefe demands. It was full of missed passes, missed shots, missed opportunities and sloppy defensive plays reminiscent of his eerily bad start to the season. The Leafs had opportunities as the game progressed, but their struggles to score with even strength continue.

“I didn’t feel like the lines were a problem; the Pittsburgh penguins were a problem, ”Keefe said. “We had to play under difficult circumstances and find ways to get to the net. And we just couldn’t do that. “

The Leafs’ power play had four chances, including a five-on-three in one minute, 49 seconds late in the third, but failed to connect. Keefe will have to make them work to create better chances in five-on-five situations.

“Worry is not the right word, because we’ve been finding ways to win a lot of games,” Keefe said of his team’s play with equal force. “But it’s difficult. We have to find ways to generate much more, to take advantage of the opportunities that we have. “

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Early edge: The Penguins were the best team in the first and deserved a 2-0 lead. Guentzel’s opportunity came as he passed defender Justin Holl in the neutral zone. Jack Campbell made the opening save, but Guentzel had another chance a few seconds later and went to five holes. Carter received an empty net when Campbell edged out Jason Zucker in the race. Zucker passed Carter instead of shooting.

The Penguins maintained that margin in the second period, adept at keeping the Leafs on the perimeter at five to five. The Leafs had a power play in the period and had a few chances, but Tristan Jarry kept them off the board.

“We made two mistakes and it cost us in the first period. We allow them to score first and take control of the game. It’s uphill from there, ”Keefe said.

Lasting memories: On their minds entering the game was the last time the teams met. The Leafs were embarrassed at Pittsburgh, 7-1. To add insult to injury, it was an unmanned Penguin squad with no seven regulars, including Sidney Crosby.

“You never forget those games,” Leafs defender TJ Brodie said. “But now we are a different team. We are playing much better, more in the way we are capable ”.

In fact, the Leafs lost their next game in Carolina, but they stopped the bleeding in Chicago and have been on the run ever since due to, as Brodie put it, a combination of elements.

“The main thing is to put five guys on the same page,” he said. “The forwards have been doing a very good job recovering and putting pressure on other teams, and that allows us to remain as defenders. We have that protective layer that removes the medium. “

Respect for Sid: While the Penguins have been at their best since that encounter, they got Crosby back after wrist surgery. Crosby gets a lot of attention from the other side and earns a lot of respect.

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“You’re talking about one of the best players in history and, without a doubt, probably the best player of this generation,” Tavares said. “He is as skilled as anyone, as motivated as anyone. One of the toughest matchups to have, and I’ve had some good battles over the years.

“We played each other in the playoffs once. I wasn’t on the right end of that one, but I had some good games and I’ve seen him at his best. Such a special player. So you have to be at a certain level to compete against such a player. “

Notable: Jason Spezza played his 1,196th NHL game, tying Denis Savard for 117th on the all-time list. Spezza ranks 7th among active skaters … Matthews will shave his signature mustache, keeping his promise to do so after raising $ 134,000 for the Movember fundraiser. The goal was reached just after the game started. Movember is a charity dedicated to raising awareness of prostate cancer, testicular cancer and mental health … Travis Dermott and Kirill Semyonov were the healthy scratches of the Leafs. … Joseph Woll is expected to start at the net on Sunday against the New York Islanders … Josh Ho-Sang scored in overtime in the Marlies’ 3-2 win over Lehigh Valley. Leafs affiliate AHL is 8-4-1 … The Toronto Six won their first home game in the Premier Hockey Federation, beating Connecticut 5-1 at York Canlan Ice Arena in North York. Michela Cava led the Six with two goals and one assist. The Six are 2-0-0 to start the season.

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