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Keefe: Leafs' stars 'couldn't make a difference' in dramatic loss to Coyotes

Mark Blinch / National Hockey League / Getty

Toronto Maple Leafs head coach Sheldon Keefe wanted more from his top players during his side's dramatic 4-2 loss to the Arizona Coyotes on Monday night.

"Our best people have not found their rhythm," Keefe told reporters postgame.

He added: "The difference between us and Arizona is that we have elite players. And our elite players didn't play like elite players today, they couldn't make a difference. In that sense, the game is going to be close. That's the way it goes when those guys don't make the difference that they can."

The contest had no shortage of frustrating moments for Keefe's side, which was booed off the ice at Scotiabank Arena as the buzzer sounded at the end of the second period.

Toronto entered the final frame down 2-0 thanks to goals from former Maple Leaf Nick Ritchie and Christian Fischer. To make matters worse, the Leafs' power-play unit - which was the best in the league last season - failed to register a shot in its first four opportunities.

The tide began to turn in Toronto's favor with seven minutes remaining in the contest: William Nylander scored on the man advantage, and Mitch Marner potted his first goal of the season 24 seconds later.

Shayne Gostisbehere helped the Coyotes regain the lead with a late power-play goal, but the drama didn't end there. The Maple Leafs thought Alexander Kerfoot knotted things up again with just under 40 seconds left in regulation, but the officials disallowed the tally after the situation room determined there was a missed game-stoppage because of a hand pass from defenseman Morgan Rielly.

Here's the situation room's explanation of the controversial call:

"I don't know, it's crazy that we're talking about such little things on these reviews," Keefe said. "We've just gotta do a better job of not putting ourselves in that spot.

"We felt that call could have gone our way, or at the very least was not conclusive enough to overturn it."

The Coyotes iced the contest thanks to an empty-net goal from Lawson Crouse, securing their first win of the season.

The Maple Leafs have been accused of playing down to their opponents in the past, a notion Keefe partially refuted prior to Monday's matchup.

"I can't remember exactly where we finished, but there were a few teams below us in the standings last season," he said, according to The Hockey News' Mike Stephens. "I'm not sure if we were bad against them all."

Arizona won both contests against Toronto in 2021-22.

The Maple Leafs are now 2-2-0 in the early goings of the 2022-23 campaign. Their two losses have come against the Montreal Canadiens and Coyotes, the bottom two teams of last season.

Toronto will be looking to right the ship Thursday against the Dallas Stars, who are undefeated through their first three games of the campaign.

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