TORONTO – Sheldon Keefe’s team held onto the puck for what seemed like an eternity.
The first-period game of keep away – rarely seen for that long in the NHL – was easy on the eyes.
The mesmerizing sequence also lulled the Maple Leafs into thinking it would be a straight- forward Monday night.
The Coyotes had other ideas.
Shayne Gostisbehere scored the winner on a power play late in the third period and added an assist as lowly Arizona stunned Toronto 4-2 to pick up its first victory of the season.
“That shift sort of lulled us to sleep,” Keefe, the Leafs head coach, lamented post-game. “Felt like we had full confidence that we were going to have real control of the game.”
That wasn’t close to the case, but after roaring back from a 2-0 deficit with under eight minutes left in regulation – and then again falling behind – Toronto appeared to tie the game 3-3 when Alexander Kerfoot fired home a rebound with 39 seconds left.
But the NHL situation room determined there was a hand pass by Leafs defenceman Morgan Rielly in the buildup, which negated the goal.
The Leafs argued the puck hit Coyotes forward Clayton Keller at the blue line before Marner took control, but to no avail.
“Crazy that we’re talking about such little things on these reviews,” Keefe said. “Got to do a better job of not putting yourself in that spot.”
Christian Fischer and Nick Ritchie, also with a goal and an assist each, and Lawson Crouse, into an empty net, provided the rest of the offence for rebuilding Arizona (1-2-0). Karel Vejmelka made 26 saves.
“Crazy third,” Gostisbehere said. “Fortunately we got a call.”
William Nylander and Mitch Marner replied for Toronto (2-2-0), while Erik Kallgren made 15 stops. John Tavares picked up an assist for the 900th point of his career.
With his team on its heels, Gostisbehere ripped his second goal of the season on a power play with 1:33 left in regulation after Calle Jarnkrok was whistled for interference and Leafs defenceman Justin Holl couldn’t clear the puck.
Following the controversy over the hand-pass equalizer, Crouse iced the game into an empty net as boos rained down from Scotiabank Arena’s stands.
“Great win for our team in the sense of how we rebounded for these young guys to get the experience of what it takes to get two points in this league,” Gostisbehere said.
“It’s very hard.”
A seventh-round pick by Arizona in 2015 – a 2019-20 season spent in the Coyotes’ minor-league system was the goalie’s only action with the organization – Kallgren got the call with Ilya Samsonov getting a breather and Matt Murray (groin) on long-term injured reserve until at least the middle of November.
The Coyotes, who opened the season by getting outscored a combined 12-5, jumped in front with 25.8 seconds left in the first on a power play.
Signed by Toronto in the summer of 2021 to play on the top line before falling out of favour and getting traded, Ritchie fired a shot in off the post for his third goal in as many games.
The Coyotes, who finished 31st overall last season, went ahead 2-0 at 8:30 of the second when Fischer beat Kallgren between the pads.
Toronto, which has a history of playing down to the level of lesser opponents, nearly fell behind 3-0 later in the period, but Kallgren held the fort on a Coyotes power play before the Leafs were booed off the ice at the end of the second.
“It’s the National Hockey League,” Tavares said. “Every night you have to compete and you have to play well and you
have to execute.”
The crowd was even more
restless in the third when Toronto’s power play went a fourth straight opportunity without registering a shot.
“They gained confidence,” Keefe said. “Our team got frustrated and lost its way.”
The Leafs got another man advantage, and after further fan angst, finally got on the board when Nylander scored his third with 7:06 left.
Marner then tied it just 24 seconds later when he jumped on a turnover for his first before Gostisbehere pushed the visitors back in front and Toronto had its 3-3 goal denied.
“The difference between us and Arizona is that we have elite players,” Keefe said. “Our elite players didn’t play like elite players today, didn’t make a difference.
“So 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 Leafs lost defenceman Jake Muzzin to a neck injury in the second period.
The 33-year-old, who has dealt with concussions in the past, missed the start of training camp with back discomfort.
Leafs: Host the Dallas Stars on Thursday.
Coyotes: Visit the Montreal Canadiens on Thursday.