The Leafs have struggled to score on the Tampa Bay Lightning this season. Up against Guy Boucher’s 1-3-1 neutral zone trap, and with Dwayne Roloson seemingly always saving his best for the Maple Leafs, the Leafs had netted only five goals in the teams’ three prior meetings. Combined with an off game from Reimer, sloppy defensive coverage, and a powerplay plodding along like its useless self, it was the recipe for an ugly outing at the ACC tonight. The result was a 6-2 Tampa Bay win that really leaves the Leafs on the ropes as far as their fading post season hopes go.
The Leafs extended their dubious bad start streak to seven with another flat first period that is certainly enough to leave one questioning the level of preparation at this point. Before you start the fire Wilson chant, it seems to me the Leafs are a young team that takes its time gaining a feel for the opponent before getting comfortable, preferring to dip their toes into the waters before jumping in with both feet. Since becoming one of the leagues youngest teams this group has been much more reactive than proactive and seem especially prone to the swings of emotion and momentum throughout a game. It’s led to some fun wins over the course of the season but it’s also not the way to get consistent results in the National Hockey League. Learning how to produce 60-minute efforts with consistency is something that only comes with experience.
The game was within the Leafs’ reach for the first two periods despite a less than convincing start. Stamkos, St. Louis and Lecavalier were all but invisible for the first 39 minutes as Phaneuf and Aulie did a solid job containing. The frustration of seeing Brett Lebda and Mike Komisarek make Nate Thompson and Mattias Ritola look like Lemieux and Jagr on goals one and two makes one want to punch walls. Hopefully Matt Lashoff gets a shot to improve the Leafs on their two weakest links – the powerplay and Brett Lebda. Can’t get much worse, can it?
The usually unfailing focus of James Reimer was just not there tonight and seems to point to the workload weighing on the Optimus Reim, who was playing his 12th straight before getting the pull on the 5-2 goal. Wilson will go with Giguere on Wednesday according to the Sportsnet panel. I don’t necessarily see Giguere as an upgrade on a tired Reimer at this point but I guess Gustavsson isn’t an option yet. It seems like a good time to give a hungry Monster his first shot since mid January but I suppose there’s a bit of risk in thrusting him into the middle of a playoff push with little margin for error. Giguere, if a shell of his former self, is playing out the twilight of his career whereas there are some long term considerations to take into account with Gus.
The Leafs’ loss tonight is two fold with the news that Colby Armstrong has likely been lost for the season with a foot injury after blocking a shot in the second period.Â Armstrong’s presence on the third line provides a balance to the forward group that will be sorely missed. Hopefully the fact that the Leafs seem to have turned a bit of a corner since the All-Star break means that they won’t return to their Armstrong-less form from earlier in the season… if they do we’ll be talking more about avoiding the lottery than this playoff race.