Time, Max Domi figures, is on his side.
The Maple Leafs winger has been slow out of the gate in his first handful of games with Toronto, recording just one assist and five shots on goal.
The 28-year-old is preaching some patience as he works to get his game into form. Domi has been through this before with new teams, telling reporters in Tampa after Leafs practice on Friday that he got a bit of a runway in Carolina and Dallas after he was traded to those clubs at the deadline in recent seasons.
“Even though I go in for short bursts here and there, you’re still expected to be able to contribute just like everyone else,” Domi said. “Playing for a guy like Pete DeBoer (with the Stars) or Rod Brind’Amour (with the Hurricanes), the common denominator was ‘We’re going to throw a lot of stuff at you and take the next 20 games to get ready to go, because when the puck drops for Game 1 (of the playoffs), that’s when we are going to need you to execute at a high level.
“Not saying it will take 20 games (in Toronto), but that’s the mindset. It does take time. It’s not one of those things where all of a sudden you snap your fingers and everything just clicks, especially when there is a lot of new faces.”
As the Leafs head into their game against the Lightning on Saturday night with a ho-hum record of 2-2, coach Sheldon Keefe continues to play around with his lines, trying to find the proper mix to give the Leafs the best shot at being the better team over 60 minutes.
To that end, David Kampf was bumped up to third-line centre at practice, skating between Domi and Calle Jarnkrok. In the middle on the fourth line was Pontus Holmberg, who was recalled earlier in the day from the Toronto Marlies, while rookie Fraser Minten was the 13th forward.
Tyler Bertuzzi, who endured through the Leafs’ 3-1 loss in Florida against the Panthers on Thursday with a minor ailment, was back with Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner and declared himself good to go for Saturday night.
Defensively, Keefe liked the Leafs’ game in Florida in kicking off a season-long, five-game trip. But the offence needs to execute, as it’s now two games in a row that the Leafs have scored just one goal.
As for Domi, who signed a one-year deal in the summer, he has been awfully quiet on the ice. He has made it no secret that he always wanted to play for the Leafs, following the path that his father Tie took, and was asked if he wanted it a little too much.
“You always want to have success right away,” Max Domi said. “That’s the nature of human beings. No one wants to fall down a bunch of times, but without failure or screw-ups, you’re never going to have success. That’s how you learn.
“Part of growing up and being mature is being able to handle that stuff in stride. It’s an honour to wear this jersey, it’s an honour to be on a team as good as this team. Just keep building and having fun and it will come.”
MATTHEWS KILLING IT
Matthews is finding his penalty-killing minutes to his liking, though he’s not satisfied as he adjusts to the role.
“It’s still a work in progress,” Matthews said. “I still find myself out there sometimes a little hesitant, but when we are able to break up plays, it turns into hockey and you just try to make good reads without sacrificing.
“There is a lot of room for improvement still, but it has been a good challenge and it has been a lot of fun.”
Once he gets the hang of it, count on Matthews to excel on the kill, not unlike Marner. Matthews’ defensive awareness, ability to retrieve pucks and cause turnovers has few equals.
“He has broken up plays, he has got the puck back and killed the penalty through offensive play,” Keefe said. “He will continue to get better at it. The biggest thing is that he seems to really enjoy it, and if a player of that calibre has bought in and wants to be a part of it, he will find a way to make it work well.”
HOLMBERG CHECKS IN
Before the Leafs knew that Bertuzzi would play on Saturday, they put out the call to Holmberg and sent defenceman Simon Benoit to the Marlies, protecting themselves up front if it turned out Bertuzzi would have to sit.
The Leafs might have recalled Holmberg anyway. In 37 games with Toronto last season, Holmberg had some smart moments, and even with the forward additions made by general manager Brad Treliving during the off-season, there was the sense that it would not be long before Holmberg was summoned from the minors.
“We like the player,” Keefe said. “He’s a good player, played a lot of good hockey for us last season.
“He has a good skill set. I thought it seemed like he maybe hit a wall in the second half of the season and he was not the same player we had earlier. The league gets harder and harder. Most young players are going to go through that, I think he did, but should be better for that experience.”
After a mediocre camp and preseason, Holmberg had two points in two games with the Marlies.
“I’m happy for him that he is getting this opportunity,” Marlies coach John Gruden said after the Marlies practised at the Ford Performance Centre on Friday. “He’s a 200-foot player, can play in all situations and you can rely on him.”