The Toronto Maple Leafs had one day to stir over their frustrating overtime loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning and were hoping to turn the page and move forward as they welcomed the Edmonton Oilers to the Air Canada Centre. With the Oilers in town, fans were treated to a battle between two of the league’s youngest and quickest teams. Unfortunately for both organizations it seems the inexperience is keeping them among the bottom of the NHL StandingsÂ and in most statistical categories. On this night, that youth and excitement was one sided as the Oilers counter attacked their way to a 5-0 victory.
The Leafs came out with a few positives early, most notably a strong defensive effort by Mike Komisarek in preventing an Oiler breakaway chance. Shortly after that, Jordan Eberle, an important piece to the Edmonton puzzle, took advantage of an early opportunity and slipped a shot passed Jonas Gustavsson. The Leafs kept moving their feet and showed no panic. With the focus on each teams ability to skate, the Leafs displayed theirs, forcing the Oilers to take a few penalties. Like a nightmare on repeat, Toronto power play was unable to erase the early lead, generating chances but failing to capitalize. Phil Kessel was close to lifting his team off the goose egg, but the solid and steady play of Nikolai Khabibulin kept the Oilers ahead into the first intermission.
It is always exciting when young NHL stars make the trip to Toronto and the Oilers showed that in tonight’s game to the Leafs‘ dismay. After a quick goal in the first period by Jordan Eberle, it was first overall pick Taylor Hall’s time to shine early in the second. Hall used his speed toÂ skate past his check and nicely back-handed the puck past Gustavsson, ending his night. The two curious goals allowed was enough evidence for Ron Wilson to pull Gustavsson and send in the returning J.S. Giguere. Expecting to back-up Gustavsson in his first game since a groin injury sidelined him, Gigeure had to be involved early and settled in for the remainder of the second period. Gigeure’s counterpart Nikolai Khabibulin continued his excellent play and robbed the Leafs of a few chances to get into the game. Preventing Nazem Kadri from scoring his first NHL goal on a nice wrap-around, Khabibulin went post to post and somehow stopped the puck from crossing the line. The sturdy performance from their goaltender gave the Oilers some confidence to press offensively. With 2.2 seconds on the clock, Sam Gagner crashed the net hard and gave his team the 3-0 lead, and sent the Leafs off the ice to a chorus of boos from the home crowd.
The third period saw the frustration continue for the Leafs as Khabibulin shut the door on a few early chances. The confidence on the Leafs bench decreased rather quickly, and without support from the hostile Toronto crowd, the atmosphere turned on them and seemed to swallow up their pace, eliminating any momentum for a comeback. The offense became easily contained and the Oilers took full advantage of the vulnerable Leaf team. Completing a strong night, Taylor Hall scored his second of the game on a nice redirect from a Jordan Eberle pass. The Oilers seized the toxic environment and finished off the Leafs with a Ryan Jones breakaway goal. With just 19 shots on goal, the OilersÂ completed a perfect Eastern road trip with the 5-0 win.
Quality chances for the Leafs offense were more readily available tonight than in recent times. But with the two goals Ron Wilson referred to as “bad” putting the Leafs in catch-up mode, the offence again didn’t produce the final product needed. After the game Wilson spoke of his decision to pull Jonas Gustavsson from the game.
“I wanted toÂ give our team some momentum. Two bad goals and I think Monster would agree to that. Giggy was ready so I decided to put him in.”
Evident that players were left gripping their sticks a little tight, the offensive dearth was worsened by the steady Nikolai Khabibulin. The tension set in quickly and with the fans impatience grabbing hold, the Leafs attack was smothered with frustration.
“We start the third period and a young team is going to be frustrated. Its the cliche where being scored on in the last minute hurts. We tried to do too much with the crowd stirred. It became one on one and they buried us at that point.”
The cliches have become the norm with this Maple Leafs team. While they are relevant, the fact that players and coaches alike are left without excuses to give speaks to the critically bad position this team is in. The question coming into the season was whether or not the offense could put the puck in the net, and by now this has surely been emphatically answered. Dropping sixteen of their last twenty and being shut out in six games thus far has visibly collapsed the emotion in nearly all Leafs players and the dressing room seems lost on Wilson. The team can no longer hold onto their steady goaltending and improved defensive play as positives. The efforts in both categories are spoiled consistently by an inability to generate offense. Brian Burke is at the mercy of anyÂ rival GMÂ interested in movement right now and unless his struggling team can find its own way out of this tailspin, little is likely to change on that front. Only time will tell if Burke is able to fix his team and rescue the season. The lifelines inside the Leafs locker room appear non existent.