It was another poor start that became yet another loss.
And the hole gets deeper for the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Toronto lost for the seventh time in its last eight games on Thursday night, done in by a listless start as the San Jose Sharks snuck out a 2-1 win on the back of two early Patrick Marleau goals.
The Leafs, limited to only eight shots on goal in the game’s first half, attempted to rally in the third, but getting to within one was all they could manage.
“We’ve got to maybe prepare a little bit better,” Leafs centre Tyler Bozak said, “and get ready to go right off the first drop of the puck.”
“Why we didn’t play in the second period the way we did in the third, I don’t know,” coach Ron Wilson said. “We need a win somehow.”
Unlike many of the Leafs recent losses, the man in goal wasn’t to blame – even if James Reimer may have been able to snag Marleau’s first goal that beat him high blocker just 32 seconds into the middle frame.
No, Toronto has more than just the one issue at the moment, with several of its goal scorers in droughts and the power play firing at only about 10 per cent the past 20 games.
(The man advantage didn’t even get a chance to let them down in this one, with San Jose somehow escaping without a single penalty call.)
There just hasn’t been enough fight in this Leafs team – aside, that is, from tough guy Mike Brown, who rearranged Sharks defenceman Jim Vandermeer’s face with his knuckles early in the third.
And, wouldn’t you know it, that seemed to be the only thing that helped.
A minute later, Leafs rookie Jake Gardiner took a nifty pass from Phil Kessel and belted in Toronto’s first goal to start the comeback attempt.
In part, that came on the shot clock, where the Leafs out chanced San Jose 18-5 for a 20 minute stretch after Marleau’s second goal but simply couldn’t beat netminder Antti Niemi.
Unlike two nights earlier against the New Jersey Devils, Toronto’s late game push wasn’t enough to push things to overtime and grab even a single point out of the affair.
Now with 65 points after 61 games, the Leafs are on pace for just 87 on the year – only two more than they managed last season en route to finishing 10th in the East.
The only good news for Toronto on that front is their conference has been so god awful at the low end that even 90 may be enough to make it.
The bad is that it’ll take a 12-8-1 run from them to get there – and that’s a mountain they just don’t look able to climb.
“We need to win those games,” Wilson said of Toronto’s next two games against Washington and Florida, teams right next to them in the standings.
“We have to understand that as a group in there to be ready to give whatever you’ve got left in the tank to win those hockey games.”
After struggling in several recent starts, Reimer was solid in making 23 saves to keep things close.
"As far as my personal game, I felt I was following the puck well and seeing it for the most part," he said. "Obviously it would have been nice to make one of those two saves to give the boys a better chance.
"I thought we played well as a team, we played hard. They're an experienced team, and I thought especially in the last half of the game, we threw everything at [Niemi] So I think we should hold our heads up high. We're getting better every game and sooner or later we're going to start getting some wins."
As for the talk that the Leafs may acquire another goaltender before Monday's trade deadline, Reimer said he's done his best to block it all out.
"I don't pay attention to it," he said. "Ignorance is bliss. Obviously there's comments floating around, but I have no idea what those comments are and really don't care what they are.
"I'm going to keep working hard and doing my best. I love doing my best and I hate going home and knowing that I let myself down and my teammates down... That's all I'm worried about."
Grabovski’s contract distraction
While their goaltending woes have received most of the attention, another of the Leafs key issues has been the disappearance of centre Mikhail Grabovski, who is now goalless in 11 games.
One reason may be that Leafs GM Brian Burke and Grabovski’s agent, Gary Greenstin, are at an impasse in contract negotiations, with the length of term at least part of the problem.
Grabovski is believed to be seeking a deal that would pay roughly $5-million a season and take the 28-year-old pivot into his mid-30s, which could make it the longest contract Burke has ever signed.
While it’s unlikely Grabovski will be dealt before Monday’s trade deadline, the chances of him walking away in the summer increase the longer the stalemate goes on.
All the trade talk, meanwhile, appears to be getting him off his game.