The Toronto Maple Leafs started this game like they have so many others before: Like a team that belongs in the ECHL. The same thing happened last Thursday, the last time they played the Florida Panthers. The difference was, on Thursday, the Leafs were able to pull it around and score five unanswered goals. This time, things never turned around and the team just sucked.
The final score was 4-1 in favour of the Panthers but that doesn’t really sum up just how pathetically the Leafs played last night. Let’s try to break it down in point-form fashion:
- Jonathan Bernier was the only reason this game was relatively close. He ended up with 44 saves, including 36 in the first two periods alone. The only goal he probably had a chance on was the third Panthers’ goal, a wrist-shot from Shawn Matthias from the left wing that beat him short side. Make no mistake; this loss rests squarely on the shoulders of his teammates.
- The blame begins and ends with the defense. Surprisingly, I actually agreed with Sportsnet’s Nick Kypreos after the game when he said the Leafs’ D played too passively and allowed the Panthers to gain the offensive blue-line too easily. As a result, Bernier had to face wave after wave after wave of scoring chances.
- Some time between last Thursday and tonight, Randy Carlyle decided to switch up his D pairings, reuniting Cody Franson and Jake Gardiner on the second unit and running Morgan Rielly-Tim Gleason on the third. He tried the Franson-Gardiner pairing before, and it didn’t work. The problem with that pairing is neither guy seems to know how to play defense. They’re both offensive-minded players, and when they’re not on their games (as was the case tonight), they make egregious turnovers that predictably lead to goals and scoring chances.
- The two Leafs’ defensemen who I thought had positive performances were Dion Phaneuf and Rielly. Phaneuf missed some time after appearing to catch an injury from a Sean Bergenheim hit, but fortunately he recovered and was back on the ice not long after. Phanuef jumped into the rush at times and was effective, even getting a breakaway attempt off a Phil Kessel feed that he unfortunately fired just over the net. Rielly was his usual freewheeling self; skating the puck up the ice with ease and creating opportunities for his teammates in the offensive zone.
- Nobody was really able to get any offense going early for the Leafs except the first line. James van Riemsdyk had to fly separately from the team to Florida because of the flu and looked to be labouring a bit on the ice, but even at less than 100 per cent he was able to get some chances.
- David Clarkson scored his fourth goal of the season (and first since December 21) in his return from a bursa sac injury that sidelined him for eight games. The goal came as a result of some line juggling by Carlyle, putting Joffrey Lupul on the top line alongside Tyler Bozak and Kessel, and Clarkson on the second line with Nazem Kadri and van Riemsdyk. Kadri stripped Panthers forward Tomas Kopecky of the puck at the offensive blue-line before feeding Clarkson in the slot. Clarkson put a wrist-shot past Panthers goaltender Tim Thomas for a goal that briefly made the score only 2-1 for Florida. The goal would end up being meaningless to the final score, but hopefully it gives Clarkson a bit more confidence going forward.
- I would estimate by crowd noise that a majority of the 15,583 fans at the BB&T Center in Sunrise last night were Leafs fans. It’s a shame they weren’t treated to a better game from the Buds.
The Leafs will make the short trip to St. Petersburg, Florida where they will take on the Tampa Bay Lightning on Thursday.