There must be a more embarrassing night on record for the Toronto Maple Leafs, perhaps one of those awful nights in the late 1980s in the final, mad days of Harold Ballard’s reign. Perhaps it was that night when the Leafs so utterly gave up in a playoff game against the Detroit Red Wings that they were showered by debris when the crowd was sparked by one disgusted fan tossing his Leafs sweater on the ice.
But Monday night’s no-show against the Boston Bruins, which capped a season’s worth of futility against them, was every bit the equal of anything that happened in the worst period of the franchise’s history.
The score, 8-0, actually flattered the poor Leafs, if such a thing is possible. This was the complete humiliation of a young team without a shred of confidence by a tough, skilled, far superior opponent. The Bruins took control of the puck from the opening faceoff and toyed with the helpless Leafs.
“We played in our boots, they played in their skates,” Leafs head coach Randy Carlyle said.
Three minutes in, the Bruins had the Leafs’ lunch money. A little while after that, up 4-0, they had the visitors’ Care Bears backpacks as well.
“It was embarrassing,” said defenceman Mike Komisarek, one of the few Leafs to show any backbone. He tangled with Bruins bruiser Milan Lucic in a rematch of a brutal beating issued by Lucic four years ago when Komisarek played for the Montreal Canadiens. This time he survived, although his team did not.
“There is no excuse,” Komisarek added. “It’s unacceptable to come out like that, just not being ready to play.”
Carlyle also spoke of his team being unprepared to face a team that had already beaten them in five games this season by a margin of 28-10.
“We can’t really point to any one thing right now that we did well,” Carlyle said. “As a coaching staff, we have to take responsibility because we didn’t prepare the team well.”
The first period was played almost entirely in the Leafs’ zone. The Bruins cycled the puck around almost until they tired of it and scored. The Leafs did not get a shot on goal until 13 minutes, 18 seconds were played.
This is how bad it was: The line of centre Chris Kelly and wingers Brian Rolston and Benoit Pouliot had nine points. Rolston, 39 years old and winding down a good NHL career by serving as depth insurance for the Bruins, had a goal and three assists to equal a career-high for one game. Pouliot, whose commitment was found lacking by two other teams before landing with the Bruins as another depth player, was allowed to crash around like John Tonelli. He had two goals and an assist. Kelly, a solid NHLer but always a third-liner, had a goal and an assist.
Carlyle and Kessel
One has to wonder about the long-term possibilities of the relationship between Leafs winger Phil Kessel and Carlyle. The coach likes players with fortitude and Kessel is not showing well in that department.
A look at Kessel’s play against his former team, the Boston Bruins, since he was traded to the Leafs in the summer of 2009 is instructional in this regard. Monday night’s debacle was Kessel’s 18th against the Bruins. In those games, he has always given the air of someone who would rather be anywhere else, particularly when those games are in Boston.
In those 18 games, Kessel has three goals and six assists and is a minus-18. Hardly the numbers of a franchise player. Monday night, he was minus-2.
Is there a more unsuitable nickname for Reimer than Optimus Reim? Once again, he crashed back to earth after a few signs of life. The trouble is, this is not a case of a goaltender getting shelled because he is playing behind an awful team.
Granted, Reimer is playing behind an awful team. But he is not valiantly holding off the attacking hordes before the inevitable happens. He is usually the one springing the trap door on the hapless Leafs. This time, he was pulled after coughing up four goals on nine shots.
“The goaltending falls in line with the rest of the team,” Carlyle said. “It didn’t play to the level we need.”