Two vastly different Maple Leaf teams showed up, but neither were enough to muster W, as the Leafs fell to the San Jose Sharks 4 – 2 Tuesday night.  Ex-Leaf Mike Brown, Joe Thornton, Brad Stuart and Logan Couture tallied for the Sharks, who won their 19th of the season and sixth straight.  Mason Raymond and Phil Kessel replied with power play goals for the Leafs, who dropped their fourth straight.  James Reimer made 37 saves in defeat, while Antti Niemi stopped 28 in his 24th start of the season.

1.  Tonight marked the beginning of the Leafs’ Dreadful December, facing the league’s second best team in their first of four games in six nights.  Ahead of the game, the mismatch in play styles was heavily noted.  By the numbers, the San Jose Sharks are playing like a Cup favourite, and the Leafs look like anything but.  The Sharks are dominating almost every statistical category, including scoring more than 1.5x as many goals as they allow.  The Sharks shot differential is a baffling +8.1; the Leafs a staggeringly bad -9.5.  It seemed the Leafs would face a Sisyphean task just to lose by a touchdown.

2.  Despite the coming up short on the stat sheet ahead of the game, the Leafs came out buzzing to start the first.  The newly minted 2nd line of Raymond, Holland and Kulemin got a number of chances in the first minute of play.  All three players, though they would spend most of the rest of the game on separate lines, had good nights tonight, Raymond especially.

3. Frazer McLaren should not be an NHLer.  At about the 6 minute mark of the first period, McLaren fed a suicide pass to Jerrod Smithson as they were exiting the Leafs zone.  Sharks 4th liner Andrew Desjardins absolutely demolished Smithson with a clean, jolting hit one step past the Leafs blue line.  Perturbed by the check, McLaren decided to take matters into his own hands, shoving Desjardins and causing a scrum.  For his antics, FML served two minutes in the sin bin; Desjardins received nothing for a clean hit.  I don’t care if you love enforcers, I don’t like players who put their own teammates at risk and then take stupid penalties against the one of the league’s top offenses in a tied hockey game.

4. After the Leafs managed to kill the penalty, a series of turnovers and failures to clear the zone by the Leafs defenders, Mark Fraser and Morgan Rielly, led to Mike Brown scoring the game’s opening goal.  After Rielly failed to clear the puck along the right wing boards, Fraser gets beaten to the puck by Desjardins.  Desjardins feeds Demers at the right point, whose shot deflects off Brown’s stick then Rielly’s stick before eluding Reimer.  Good to be lucky, lucky to be good, I guess.

5.  Because NHL referees like working playoff games in sunny California at the Leafs expense, the Sharks made it 2 – 0 shortly thereafter on a 5 – on – 3 powerplay.  Joe Thornton finished off a terrific passing play from just in front of the Leafs net.  Both power plays for the Sharks came from penalties drawn in their own zone.  McClement took a foolish hooking penalty at the Sharks blueline; then Mason Raymond took a somewhat marginal tripping call behind the sharks net during the ensuing PK.  On the ensuing faceoff, Tyler Bozak was hauled down to no call, and the Sharks’ top PP unit began a series of surgical passes that put the Leafs down two.

6. The Leafs ended the first period getting outshot 13-5 as a full 17 minutes of gameplay elapsed between Leaf shots.  The Leafs started the second period with about a half minute of power play time, though failed to capitalize on it.  Dion Phaneuf caught a pass from Phil Kessel, had his initial two shots saved and a third get deflected (on a WIIIIDE open net) and sail high.  However, shortly after the penalty expired, Trevor Smith draws a penalty breaking out of the Leafs zone.  Late in the power play, Morgan Rielly threads a pass up the left wing boards to Raymond, who outworks Brad Stuart to get the puck, and then skates it down and scores a squeaker through Antti Niemi’s five hole to make it a 2 – 1 game.

7.  Whether from the benefit of the power plays or Carlyle putting the fear of god into the Buds during the intermission, the Leafs came out and played the Sharks a world better in the second.  At one point they led the Sharks 9-3 in shots.  But the pundits would tell you the turning point was when Smithson took on Desjardins.  Clarkson had a chance go off the crossbar, as the Leafs were buzzing around the Sharks zone.  After the Sharks took their third penalty of the game, Tyler Bozak picked up the puck from James van Riemsdyk and fed an incredible backhand pass to Phil Kessel who buried his 15th of the season to bring the game even at 2 – 2.

8.  With three lines humming and taking the Sharks to task, Randy Carlyle gambles with a fourth line shift late in the period against the Shark’s fourth.  The Sharks put on a cycling clinic, hemming the Leafs brutes in their own zone for well over a minute.  Everyone with eyes on the ice knew what was coming, and eventually Dan Boyle found Brad Stuart who slipped it past Reimer to make it 3 – 2.

9.  After the fourth line dug a hole, the rest of the Leafs team came back and played the Sharks evenly in the third period.  Fast paced, with chances both ways, it looked very possible that the Leafs would be able to knot the game at 3s.  The best chance came with just over three minutes to play when Raymond fed Jake Gardiner in the slot, who wired a shot that Niemi just snagged.  With Reimer pulled, Morgan Rielly turned the puck over at the blueline, and seconds later Logan Couture ices the game with an empty netter 4 – 2.

10.  Let’s not kid ourselves; almost everybody predicted a Sharks victory tonight.  It was frankly a much closer matchup than anyone thought it would be prior to puck drop, and a lot closer than the 4-2 margin of victory.  However you want to look at tonight though, the Leafs Jekyll and Hyde game is a serious issue.  This was a game that featured a period where the Leafs didn’t record a shot for 17 minutes followed by a period where they fired 17 shots.  Whenever the second period version of the Leafs wants to show up for 60 minutes, even the San Jose Sharks can be made to tremble.

Perhaps more distressing, the infirmary was busy tonight.  The centre depth might have taken a substantial blow again tonight, as Bozak left (and returned) in the second, and wasn’t on the bench in the third.  Smithson, as noted above, looked to have his bell rung at least a little bit in the first.  Finally, Peter Holland blocked a shot late in the period and was seen to be limping afterwards.

In sum, there was a lot to like in the Leafs performance tonight, despite the result.  There were also some fairly egregious lapses in judgment by both players and staff which ultimately sunk the Leafs.  The Leafs will hope to get back in the win column Thursday as they host the Dallas Stars.

Leafs/Sharks Shot Data
Leafs/Sharks Shot Data

10:00:00SJSMike Brown (2) Wrist shot - ASST: Jason Demers (11), Andrew Desjardins (5)1 - 0 SJS
14:31:00SJS PPG - Joe Thornton (5) Wrist shot - ASST: Joe Pavelski (17), Dan Boyle (6)2 - 0 SJS
2:44:00TOR PPG - Mason Raymond (10) Wrist shot - ASST: Morgan Rielly (9), Carl Gunnarsson (2)2 - 1 SJS
9:47:00TOR PPG - Phil Kessel (15) Snap shot - ASST: Tyler Bozak (7), James van Riemsdyk (9)2 - 2 Tie
16:00:00SJSBrad Stuart (3) Tip-in - ASST: Dan Boyle (7)3 - 2 SJS
18:36:00SJSEN - Logan Couture (10) Wrist shot - ASST: Tommy Wingels (10)4 - 2 SJS

2M. FraserD000-2013400-0:00:002:25:0016:15:00
3D. PhaneufD0000042410-3:32:004:49:0025:27:00
11J. McClementC000021601067%0:00:003:04:0015:03:00
12M. RaymondL101-14410100%1:13:000:19:0016:59:00
15P. RangerD0000004231-0:00:001:54:0016:54:00
21J. van RiemsdykL011-10750100%3:16:002:11:0022:10:00
22J. SmithsonC000-150400047%0:00:000:24:0010:28:00
23T. SmithC000-101600053%0:57:000:00:0018:59:00
24P. HollandC000000010044%0:00:000:00:0012:11:00
28C. OrrR000-1005000-0:00:000:00:005:57:00
36C. GunnarssonD0110016330-0:39:004:18:0019:04:00
38F. McLarenL000-1203010-0:00:000:00:006:21:00
41N. KuleminL000-1002000-0:00:003:54:0013:37:00
42T. BozakC011-101100059%2:43:002:49:0012:33:00
44M. RiellyD011-3022130-0:57:000:00:0018:26:00
51J. GardinerD000-1022120-3:50:000:00:0023:54:00
71D. ClarksonR000-1014300-1:46:000:00:0017:41:00
81P. KesselC101-1050002-3:32:000:01:0020:56:00
34J. Reimer (L)37 - 400.925059:38:00
75 %
75 %
Special Teams
60 %
70 %
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Michael Stephens has been writing for Maple Leafs Hotstove since 2010, and has featured in the 2010 and 2012 Maple Leaf Annuals. Former Editiorial Intern at The Hockey News. Undergraduate degree from the University of Windsor. Chat me up about all things hockey on twitter @MLHS_Mike