There was much for Ron Wilson to be unhappy about Saturday night but given the number of times he mentioned Carey Price by name both when prompted and unprompted and the manner in which he laid the unravelling of his team squarely on events after a first goal that was “stoppable,” it was clear where most of the blame lay.
That only reinforced the notion laid down in the Toronto Maple Leafs dressing room. There was James Reimer, finished his media responsibilities, still in his skates – head held in his hands.
The Montreal Canadiens had chased Reimer after 40 minutes on Mats Sundin Night at the Air Canada Centre, en route to a 5-0 win in front of a grumbling, booing crowd of 19,685 that included the Los Angeles Lakers Kobe Bryant.
The Leafs have lost three consecutive games and will open a three-game Western Canadian road trip Tuesday in Calgary against the Flames.
The Canadiens scored four second-period goals on seven shots before Wilson turned the game over to Jonas Gustavsson to start the third.
Gustavsson let in a goal on the first real shot he faced, by Mathieu Darche at 1:29, and that pretty much summed up the night. Erik Cole, Rene Bourque, Max Pacioretty and Lars Eller beat Reimer in the second, when his shot beat Reimer through the legs.
This was an embarrassing night for the Maple Leafs defencemen – all of them – who spent the entire game waving at Canadiens players (Carl Gunnarson reached lamely with his stick for Cole.) Luke Schenn gave away the puck on the second Canadiens goal and Dion Phaneuf simply stopped following Eller on his goal.
The Leafs had the first three power-play opportunities, managing just one shot on goal. In fact, it was the Canadiens who built momentum off of aggressive special teams play, with Cole’s goal coming a dozen seconds after Hal Gill’s holding penalty was killed off.
The Leafs top line was a non-factor after some bright plays early by Phil Kessel. Only the line of Dave Steckel, Mike Brown and Darryl Boyce was engaged from start to finish. Of 19 hits delivered by Leafs forwards, 14 came from that line.
“There were 29 whistles in the first period,” said Wilson, the Leafs head coach. “They (the Canadiens) slowed down the pace and worked the counterpunch.”
That they did. This three-game losing streak has clouded what the Leafs need as the trade deadline approaches – one night it’s a crying need for goaltending, the next night it’s the need for a shut-down defenceman and on most nights it’s the lack of a skilled, big forward who can establish offensive zone presence.
As Gunnarsson noted: nothing the Canadiens did surprised the Leafs. “We knew they’d sit back, play their trap and go to the transition game,” he said, shrugging. “They got the quick start they needed. It played into their hands.”
Phaneuf, of course, has inherited the captain’s C from Sundin and it was left to him on this night to provide insight into how he and his teammates could lay such a stinker against a team whose playoff hopes are on fumes.
“We got beaten in every aspect except the shot clock,” Phaneuf said, after the Leafs out-shot the Canadiens 32-18. “It’s not from a lack of urgency or not understanding where we’re at. We just didn’t play well. I’m not sure anything else needs to be said.”
Wilson, who had Mike Komisarek and Colby Armstrong in the press box, will give the Leafs Sunday off which is just as well: the team seems to need a mental health day more than anything.
“We did a lot of work to get where we are,” Phaneuf said, as he started to indicate he’d had enough interviews. “We let it slip a bit the last week.” In the process, they’ve failed to bring any clarity to their needs going into the trade deadline, other than suggest that more work needs to be done than might have otherwise been expected.