The Maple Leafs took a couple of big wins out of Anaheim and Los Angeles, only to come out flat as a bottle of Coke left out in the sun for a week against a far more beatable opponent in Washington.
Early start time? Sickness coursing through the locker room? All the recent travel? Who knows, but the Leafs have had too many full periods like this throughout the season with the only simple explanation being they’re a skating team that gets into big trouble if their legs aren’t there. Three goals against in the first 9 minutes and a 14-2 shot deficit through 20 minutes is an extremely difficult start to overcome.
The Leafs also took three penalties in the first period, and ran their usual set up to try to isolate Alex Ovechkin and remove him from the equation. The tradeoff is that it creates a 4 on 3 situation on the other side of the ice. Twice the Leafs were outnumbered down low and Phaneuf and Gleason couldn’t take the pass away to the man in front; both times the other D (Franson on the first, Ranger on the 2nd) had stepped up to apply pressure on the puck off the half wall.
Perhaps the bigger issue on both occasions was the ease with which the Capitals were allowed to set themselves up in the first place. Passively allow the 2nd-best powerplay in the League to get themselves set and they’re going to make you pay more often than not. Alex Ovechkin was content to play decoy and let the rest of the PP unit slice the Leafs apart.
The call leading up to the Caps’ third goal was a total mystery, as the ref seemed to invent a slash by Phaneuf out of thin air and send him to the box for it. Joel Ward scored his second of the game on the ensuing powerplay.
A late goal by Troy Bodie off a chip shot over the shoulder of Jaroslav Halak gave the Leafs a fighting chance going into the 2nd. They responded with one of their best periods of the season in terms of shots (20-6 in favour of the Leafs; they took 16 of the first 17 shots of the period).
The Leafs got their fair share of powerplay opportunities as well, with three consecutive in the second period. They generated a good amount of pressure, but the Capitals did a good job of blocking shots at timely moments and the Leafs didn’t generate enough in the way of point shots with a presence in front.
Dion Phaneuf put the Leafs within one after showing good patience on the blueline and tossing one on net. It either was a wounded duck change-up or it hit Nazem Kadri in the pants and the scorekeepers didn’t take notice; either way, the Leafs’ offense from their defence continues to be a positive of late, with Phaneuf individually collecting five points in his last five and seven points in his last 9.
Credit to Phaneuf big time for gutting this one out despite being less than 100% (goal and an assist from #3). Cody Franson led the defence core with 22 minutes while Carlyle tried to limit Phaneuf’s minutes, which is not something we’ll want to see going forward (Franson did not have a game worth framing).
David Clarkson hit a crossbar late in the second on what would’ve been the tying goal. He had a couple of really poor shifts, but if that goes in it changes the perception. He’s neither playing well nor getting the breaks.
Reimer was a part of the first period woes, no doubt. He wasn’t absorbing pucks and killing plays when the team needed a whistle (sometimes simply not catching pucks), and it caused issues in and around a couple of the goals and contributed to the 2nd one directly. But he took the much quieter 2nd period to settle into the game and came up big in the third time and again, giving this team a chance to even the score in the final 20. Reimer didn’t have a chance on goals 1 or 3 and played well enough to give the team a chance overall.
The team in front of Reimer, though, didn’t generate any serious chances in the third, with Randy Carlyle turning on the line blender (Lupul, Kadri and Kessel skated a few shifts together). There were some putrid attempts at breakouts with long stretch passes sent hopelessly into the neutral zone. The Leafs had to kill a penalty for two of the final three minutes, but did manage to apply some late pressure only for Joffrey Lupul to send an overly hopeful pass (looking for a bounce or a no-look connection) all the way down the ice.
This was a painful game to watch for the most part, one the Leafs will need to put behind them before getting ready for another big game against a fringe playoff team in the East, Detroit, on Tuesday. James Reimer is expected to remain in goal.
|Jaroslav Halak (27-11-4)||W||29||27||0.931||60:00:00|
|James Reimer (11-9-1)||L||32||29||0.906||59:34:00|
|James van Riemsdyk||0||0||21:38||-2||1||0||0||0||0||0||1||0|