The Leafs fall to 8-6-0 as their four game win streak ends with a tame effort in Carolina.
1 – A “staged” fight between Orr and Westgarth provided a brief flash of mild excitement early in the first, a pretty even bout amid a boring, uneventful first half-period filled with Leafs icings. I counted just four shots through the first 9 minutes of play.
2 – After Liles rang iron on the powerplay, the Leafs continued to ice the puck throughout the remainder of the first, spending a lot of time in their own zone and struggling to initiate breakouts without icing it or giving the puck away. The Leafs lost the possession battle cleanly and were fortunate to be even after 1, despite a level 8-8 shot count. With the Leafs struggling to get into the game, Carlyle gave Kadri some time with Kessel and JvR, and Nazem led an excellent breakout where he went by two or three Canes in the neutral zone before dishing the puck to Kessel for a good chance. Feeling confident, Kadri tried the same thing starting deep in his own zone and lost the puck to a pokecheck at his own blueline. Scrivens stood tall as the Leafs went under siege.
3 – Things didn’t get a whole lot better to start the second. With the Leafs pinned in again after a blown clearance, Dion and Grabovski botched chances to get the puck out directly in front of the net, and Corvo hopped on the puck and ripped it top left. Phaneuf served that one up on a tee with a soft backhand (pass? clearance? Beats me) right in front.
4 – The two made up for it on the powerplay shortly thereafter. Grabovski slid it to Phaneuf on the point, who, refreshingly, shot it low and hard and a good thing happened. The puck deflected off McBain, then off Kadri’s leg and in. That’s Kadri’s fourth goal and team-leading 12th point.
5 – The game really opened up toward the middle of the second as the teams started trading chances. Bozak had a great chance to put the Leafs up 2-1 after a nicely timed pinch by Dion, who again just got it on net, producing a rebound in the slot. Bozak appeared to skate over the puck with Dan Ellis down and out.
6 – The Leafs gave up a cheap goal on the penalty kill with seven minutes left in the second. Scrivens came out to claim the puck, missed, and Jussi Jokinen dispatched it into the net. That’s way too easy. Scrivens looked to the officials either appealing for a whistle or to claim he was interfered with, but he came way out and never had the puck corralled. That stood up as the game winner.
7 – Shortly thereafter, Liles got caught trying to hold the blueline, the puck got past him and it was a three on one and a half for the Canes (Kadri was trying to get back but was behind the play). The initial chance didn’t go in, but the Leafs didn’t restore defensive shape and Jordan Staal scored to make it 3-1.
8 – Another odd man opportunity with a Leaf defenceman caught, this time Mark Fraser, sent Skinner and company in on a 3 on 1. Fortunately, it ended with Fraser planting Skinner into the boards and not in a 4-1 goal. The struggles to get the puck deep and establish a forecheck were leading to odd man opportunities the other way for the Canes, with dangerous attempts to hold the blue by the Leafs D and too many turnovers high in the zone (see Kessel’s giveaway for a breakaway midway through the third, he fortunately got back to make up for it).
9 – This one wasn’t pretty for Carlyle’s Leafs, between the Leafs struggles to get the puck deep and establish a cycle, their inability to consistently clear their zone and their trouble executing clean breakouts. Carlyle described it as the Leafs “least inspiring performance in a while.” The Canes are a good looking team and seem to have their number. They’ve got two dangerous lines offensively with the additions of Alex Semin and Jordan Staal to go along with Eric Staal, Jeff Skinner and Jiri Tlusty. Defensively, their ability to bottle the Leafs up, take away their time and space, close lanes and transition up the ice off of the turnovers they generated was impressive.
10 – I’d express concerns that we didn’t seem to have the usual boost from the third line without Frattin, or about Scrivens letting in a weak one, but this was pretty poor team effort overall; the Leafs just didn’t have it tonight. We’ll have to see where it goes from here. The loss puts a four game winning streak to an end, and could mean we see a few lineup changes now that there isn’t a streak to worry about disrupting. Gunnarsson may be ready return to the mix on Saturday.