RALEIGH — Toronto Maple Leafs forward Auston Matthews and Carolina Hurricanes goaltender Frederik Andersen spent much of Sunday watching football as they hung out for the first time in a while.
Despite being teammates last season, the two friends couldn’t enjoy the same type of activities with NHL COVID protocols requiring strict measures when not on the ice for practice.
“You guys lived in Canada last year, I don’t think it was fun for anyone,” Andersen said “Just happy to be here living in another good city.”
After a difficult final season in which he lost the starting goaltending job to Jack Campbell, Andersen has turned the page with his new home in Carolina. He’s off to a torrid start with a 4-0-0 record and a .944 save percentage.
The former Maple Leaf of five seasons signed a two-year contract worth $9 million last summer.
While the Hurricanes are rising in their start, the Maple Leafs are feeling the heat following a pair of difficult losses, including a 7-1 blowout defeat to an undermanned Pittsburgh Penguins club.
“”I mean the response is clear,” Leafs defenseman Morgan Rielly said. “We have to prove that we’re going to break some bad habits and we have to play better.”
For the third period of that game, Maple Leafs coach Sheldon Keefe changed up the forward lines and he will keep those units going into the game on Monday.
“I just think with where we’re at as a team, it’s time for a different look,” Keefe said. “Just to change the chemistry a little bit with the group.”
The pressure is building as the Leafs were predicted by many analysts and prognosticators to be near the top of the standings by season’s end. But they’ve struggled to find a rhythm with a 2-3-1 record.
Matthews and Mitch Marner have yet to score a goal this season. Matthews has only played three games after returning last week following off-season wrist surgery.
“I think that noise and that panic from the outside can’t shake us because there’s no reason it should,” Matthews said. “It’s still early and we’re still trying to figure out our game and we haven’t played nearly to the ability that we’d like to or that we expect from ourselves.”
Despite changing the bottom two defense pairs in the third period of Saturday’s loss to Pittsburgh, Keefe reverted back to his defense while Travis Dermott will come back into the lineup after Timothy Lilejegren played in his place on Sunday.
Justin Holl and Jake Muzzin were on the ice for four of Pittsburgh’s seven goals scored against the Maple Leafs.
“[Muzzin and Holl] haven’t played at the level that we’ve come to expect from them,” Keefe said. “Those guys take on a lot of tough assignments and it is difficult for them. But we’ve come to expect them to thrive in that position and it hasn’t happened here yet.”
Reminders of the Maple Leafs’ past will be present as David Ayres will be in attendance to take in the game and will likely be involved in some of the pre-game festivities.
Ayers famously suited up in goal for the Hurricanes against the Maple Leafs in February, 2020, as an emergency backup goaltender.
There’s chaos in Leafs land but a win against the Hurricanes can cool things down for the time being.
“Within the room we realize that we need to play better,” Matthews said.