Thrown stick costs Maple Leafs in exhilarating clash with Canadiens

We’ll share points after every game throughout the Toronto Maple Leafs season.

Though it was brief, the undefeated run to start the season for the Toronto Maple Leafs came to a screeching halt in one of the silliest, most exhilarating, most entertaining matchups that we’ll likely see all season. Coughing up a 4-1 lead in the third period with the Montreal Canadiens in town Saturday night, Toronto scored a late equalizer (who else but Auston Matthews?) before falling 6-5 in a shootout.

The Maple Leafs will host the defending Stanley Cup champion St. Louis Blues on Monday night.

But first, three points:

First Point: ‘Boneheaded’

Mike Babcock said he’d never seen it from anyone, ever.

I mean, we’re talking about a decision so foolish that someone who has spent the last 40 years of life fully entrenched in the competitive hockey world had literally no experience to draw on in the moment.

So in some ways, then, you can’t blame Kasperi Kapanen for claiming ignorance after having his stick shattered when blocking a shot at point-blank range and whipping what remained in his hands at the initial shooter, Jeff Petry.

How would he know that, by rule, the Canadiens would be awarded a penalty shot and the chance to tie a game that they had trailed by three only eight minutes earlier?

“I was out there for a bit and I was pretty tired,” Kapanen said in his post-game scrum. “I just blocked that shot. Honestly I didn’t think I was going to even hit him but I just kinda threw my stick that way. And it hit him. And I guess you get a penalty shot for that.”

Kapanen said he was owning the mistake, but in some ways he sorta didn’t.

“If I knew that rule existed or if I thought I was going to actually hit his stick then I wouldn’t have done that. But like I said, I take full responsibility for it.”

Babcock suggested that he wouldn’t even need to broach the topic with Kapanen to know that he had learned his lesson, but others — or an other — seemed less forgiving.

Before he was even asked about the Kapanen play, instead speaking to the fatigue the Maple Leafs were dealing with in the third period in the second half of a back-to-back, Matthews used a harsher term to describe the mistakes that helped the Canadiens climb back into the game.

“It’s no secret that we’re probably going to be fatigued but we can’t let that get in the way, (result in) boneheaded mistakes, costing us opportunities on the other end that they are capitalizing on. I mean it’s definitely something we can learn from,” said Matthews.

“It’s on us to make sure we’re making good decisions.”

For Kapanen, surely it ranks as the low moment so far in a season that to this point hasn’t exactly been brimming with positives.

There’s an argument to be made that Kapanen was the worst Leafs forward through the first two games combined, and he was on for two more even-strength goals against versus the Canadiens while also being at fault for the penalty shot.

He admitted that’s he’s battled it through the first three games on a line with John Tavares and Mitch Marner.

“My game hasn’t been there as of late, for these first three games. But there are a lot of games left,” Kapanen said.

“I just gotta be better.”

Second Point: Moore is more

When asked to assess hockey’s position within a theory that pinpoints the critical difference that divides how certain sports are won and lost, Mike Babcock spoke in ideal terms about the rather broad subject Saturday morning.

The Maple Leafs coach suggested depth is the most important thing for a hockey team — which is, not simply having the best player — and mentioned a conversation he once had with NHL legend Scotty Bowman, who told him that every team should strive to have seven top-six forwards, 10 top-nine forwards, eight capable blue liners, and so on down the line.

With the way in which he recited the items, Babcock seemed to suggest that completing Bowman’s checklist was unattainable — maybe at least with the current NHL economics. But by the same token, he was underscoring one of the primary reasons that the Leafs look like one of the NHL’s elite teams.

They have that valuable excess.

Able to rotate two forwards in and out as the Leafs host an extended tryout for their fourth line is one example of that depth. Sending Kapanen back down into a third-line function when Zach Hyman returns from injury would be considered another.

But the overabundance of talent on the Leafs roster was best seen Saturday night through the performance of Trevor Moore.

Moore scored once and set up another on his temporary third-line role with Alexander Kerfoot and Ilya Mikheyev, but also did far more to lend credence to the notion that he is indeed the 10th top-nine forward in Babcock’s fantasy world.

Moore finished with a team-high 65 percent possession night, registered four shots on four scoring chances, and had a big block on a penalty kill.

Third Point: We Ce-seen enough?

Well, at least he scored one before the knives came out.

Fears over Cody Ceci’s apparent limitations were in many ways realized Saturday night. Torched on Montreal’s first three goals, Ceci twice failed to prevent the pass through on odd-man rushes and later lost Brendan Gallagher in coverage off a defensive zone faceoff, only to stand flat-footed as the Canadiens winger banged in a rebound.

Ceci has been on the ice for four even-strength goals in three games, and five in total.

A quiet start, it is no longer.

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