They were bad. They were really, truly terrible.
And not even their netminder could save them in this one.
The Toronto Maple Leafs finally coughed up a stinker on Monday night, drawing boos from the home crowd early and often in their 24th game of the season as part of an embarrassing 6-0 loss to the struggling Columbus Blue Jackets.
Even Leafs netminder James Reimer, who entered the game as the NHL’s save percentage leader (and left it a ways down the list), wasn’t immune to the catcalls, even though he was one of the more blameless players in the bloodbath.
Columbus – a team missing a top line worth of talent (Marian Gaborik, Nathan Horton and Brandon Dubinsky) and that has struggled to score all year – was picking corners and making plays all around Reimer’s beleaguered teammates.
The Blue Jackets looked little like a club that had won just three of its last 13 games.
Toronto looked little like one at the top of the Eastern Conference standings.
“What can he do?” Leafs defenceman Carl Gunnarsson said of his netminder. “Can’t blame him for anything. We had a real [expletive] game and we hung him out to dry.”
“With the way we played tonight, our performance was a team effort,” coach Randy Carlyle added. “It wasn’t anywhere near what we needed.”
While every team in the NHL will have an off night in a packed 82-game schedule, the truth of the matter is this was a loss that has been brewing for a while for Toronto.
Three weeks earlier, for example, Carlyle had predicted something along these lines, lamenting during a six-day break that his team had to be far better if they wanted to keep up what was then a 10-5-0 record.
“If we continue to play to the level we are playing at… we’re not going to continue to win hockey games,” Carlyle said in one particularly frank interview with the CBC. “There are just too many things that are trending the wrong way.”
Those were very sunny days by comparison.
Phil Kessel, with 18 points in 15 games, was one of the league’s leading scorers, and the Leafs were the ones picking those corners, shooting their way to a lot of wins despite being heavily outshot.
November, however, has been a comparative horror show. Including Monday’s loss, the Leafs have won just two of their last 10 games in regulation, a span during which two shootout wins have kept their record respectable at 4-5-1.
Toronto’s offence, meanwhile, has been almost non-existent in that stretch, producing only 16 goals to drop them to 2.64 per game on the season, a far, far cry from the 3.02 they posted a year ago. That fall off has even been mitigated by a strong power play. At even strength, the Leafs scoring is down by almost 30 per cent.
The reasons for that drought are many, but they start with the simple fact that the Leafs are not putting enough pucks on net this season.
On Monday against Columbus – a team that had given up 31 shots a game – Toronto managed just 18, part of a year-long trend of simply not being able to generate enough chances that has confounded Carlyle and his staff.
The Jackets didn’t do anything fancy other than take advantage of the Leafs gaping holes on defence.
On their first goal, Toronto’s ever-overmatched fourth line with a fighter on each wing was trapped in its own end after an icing play .
On their second, R.J. Umberger was left uncontested in front to jam in a rebound.
Those goals were 20 seconds apart and only 10 minutes into the game, giving Columbus more than enough there to win the game the way it played out.
But the Jackets, victims of a 7-0 shellacking in Edmonton last week, weren’t in the mood to ease off, and they pumped four more past Reimer to eventually chase him from the net late in the proceedings.
By that point, the Air Canada Centre was mostly empty as the majority of the 20,000 fans went home unhappy.
“It was like we were playing in our boots and they were playing in skates,” Carlyle said of his team. “It was one of those ones that was very frustrating. The most disappointing part to me is we didn’t have energy off a day off yesterday.
“It just seemed like we lacked the necessary pace that was required to compete in the game. That’s mindboggling.”
The night’s damage wasn’t limited to just the scoresheet, either. Leafs winger Joffrey Lupul left the game late in the second period after injuring his groin and his status for Wednesday’s game in Pittsburgh is in doubt.
This loss can and probably will be written off in some corners as just one bad loss, but what the Leafs month-long slide has really been is one that backs up everything hockey’s analytics community has been writing about Toronto’s style of play all season.
Winning as many games as they have – relying on sky-high shooting and save percentages and despite a huge negative in shot differential – wasn’t going to last forever. Both percentages tend to regress heavily downward when they’re well above the norm, something that’s been evident especially in the Leafs shooting percentage of late.
After scoring on a league-leading 10.5 per cent of their shots at even strength a year ago, Toronto has converted on just 7.8 per cent of their shots so far this season, a dramatic drop-off that – combined with some of the injuries up front – explains the majority of their sudden impotence.
The other issue is Carlyle’s continued reliance on players who can’t score goals, with enforcers Frazer McLaren and Colton Orr gifted spots in the lineup while offensive players like Peter Holland and Trevor Smith sit in the press box.
If there’s good news for Toronto in the aftermath of this blowout, it’s that there is a lot of season left and this could finally serve as the franchise’s wake-up call.
The bad news? The Leafs have been playing this way for an awfully long time, going back to even last season, and likely need a significant rethink to fully turn things around.
And the games aren’t going to stop coming as they try to regroup.
“We’ve got a couple games coming up this week so we better go the other way here,” Gunnarsson said, glumly.
“Bottom line is we didn’t play well enough,” captain Dion Phaneuf added. “I don't think there’s much more that has to be said or broken down. We weren’t good enough.”Report Typo/Error