Game in 10: Game 36, Leafs vs. Panthers


    Getting out of a snowy Toronto did little to improve their playoff forecast as your Toronto Maple Leafs lost 5 – 3 to the Florida Panthers.  For the first time in the past 4 games, the Leafs outshot their competition and set the pace of play for long stretches of the game.  Yet for the second time this season, the Florida Panthers prevailed, riding timely scoring and inept Leafs specialty teams to victory.  Let’s recap a hard luck loss by the Leafs.

    1.  The Leafs are 18 – 14 – 4, and the holidays are most definitely over.  The Panthers strong cycle and ability to capitalize on their chances made short work of a Leafs club who was the better team for most of the night.

    2.  Ron Wilson might have a new contract, but he still has the same specialty teams’ woes.  And like old leftovers, the PK stunk tonight.  A questionable too many men on the ice penalty aside, the Leafs undisciplined play is killing them.  Not helping matters was the fact that no Leaf was above 50% in the faceoff circle, and that becomes especially deleterious on the PK.

    3.  4 minutes and 35 seconds.  That’s how long it took to sink the Leafs tonight.  During an extended bout of brain crampitis in the second period, the Leafs managed to take 2 penalties, give up 3 goals, all on 6 shots.  On two goalies.  Yikes.

    4.  James Reimer had a pretty awful night tonight, no two ways about it.  Though Reimer restarted slowly after missing 18 games due to concussion symptoms, he’s been hot of late, stopping 109 shots prior in his three previous outings prior to tonight.  The second Panthers goal, scored by the generic named Bill Thomas, was particularly painful to watch.  In a breakaway, Thomas whiffed badly trying to deke, only to have Reimer whiff even worse on the play.  After allowing 3 goals on 8 shots in 24 minutes of action, Reimer was mercifully pulled in favour of Jonas Gustavsson.  The Monster, despite allowing two goals, played quite well in a mop up effort, channeling both Vladislav Tretiak and Johnny Bower with some tremendous saves.  He’s on the hook for the loss, though he played his share of the game to a tie.

    5.  The result of this game, in broader strokes, isn’t a death knell by any means.  Heading into action tonight, the Leafs couldn’t improve their seeding in the East, and they didn’t fall in the standings with the Ottawa Senators losing tonight.  But the Leafs middling play after their 9 – 3 – 1 start isn’t doing them any favours.  Their record in the past two months have moved the club from a team totally in control of its own destiny to one that will have to rely on the failures of those around and behind them in the standings as much as their own endeavour.

    6.  One thing that was very promising was how the Leafs responded as a team after coming out soft in the first period.  The Leafs were outplayed badly, gave up a goal 1:57 into the game and didn’t record a shot over the first 8 minutes of play.  Previous iterations of the club would have buckled and been down 2+ goals after such a lackadaisical start.  But you’ve got to like the push back exhibited by the club.  After finally tallying a shot, the Leafs went on to take 9 more before the Panthers could record another and absolutely dominated the play during that stretch.  They recorded 11 shots in a little over 11 minutes worth of work.

    7.  It’s a real shame Kris Versteeg never worked out in Toronto.  A latter day Andrew Ladd, Versteeg has played on 4 teams in the past 2 calendar years, won a cup while playing in 33 post season games in that span.    Still but 25 years old, with a cup ring and 38 points in 36 games, he’s just the kind of ‘young veteran’ that the club could use.  His goal tonight was a little bit of hard work, a little bit of good luck and more than a little painful for Leafs fans.

    8.  Good to be lucky, lucky to be good.  The Leafs were snake bitten in the offensive zone tonight, and results in the standings can come down to coin flips in this league.  Both Matt Frattin and Joffrey Lupul failed to capitalize on egregious turnovers by the Cats, while Nazem Kadri and Jake Gardiner dented some posts (on the same power play).  Even a smidgen of luck and this game would have been a successful barn burner, but instead mounts to woulda, coulda, shoulda.

    9.  Another problem that has plagued the Leafs this season has been turnovers, and the problem seemed magnified with the absence of John Michael Liles.  For a team that is in the top 5 in points from the back end, the Leafs defense sure had a hard time moving the puck in all 3 zones.  Luke Schenn had two brutal giveaways tonight, which led to two good chances and Tomas Fleischman’s go ahead goal.  The club might have the worst break away and partial break away save percentage in the league too.

    10.  All in all, this was a game where the Leafs controlled if not dominated much of the play; nonetheless, they were felled by the two weaknesses that have hamstrung the club all season: inconsistent goaltending and a shamefully bad penalty kill.  An apologist will say its growing pains or maybe rust after the Christmas layoff, but its worrying that the Leafs have so many glaring holes, ones that can and have been exploited easily and often.  The Leafs will be back in action Thursday when they take on the Carolina Hurricanes, in what will hopefully be a gimme for a club in need of some padding in the standings.