The best thing that can be said for the Toronto Maple Leafs’ last gasp of their awful 2013-14 season is that it preserved their spot in the top 10 of this year’s NHL entry draft.
By losing 1-0 to the Ottawa Senators on Saturday night with their usual desultory effort, the Leafs held a ticket for the eighth pick overall but that will not be certain until the season officially ends with Sunday’s games. The loss also guaranteed a 12th-place finish in the Eastern Conference, as the Senators moved two points ahead to 86 with the win while the Leafs finished their season with 84 points at 38-36-8.
“It’s terribly disappointing,” Leafs head coach Randy Carlyle said in summing up the late collapse by his team over the last month of the season. “It’s almost like a state of depression because it’s such a negative on your life. It’s as simple as that.
“We’re embarrassed about the way things went for our hockey club. This has been extended over a period of time. There is a lot of emotion with it.”
Also emotional was Leafs goaltender James Reimer, who did his best in what was probably his last game as a Maple Leaf. He stopped 36 of 37 shots, but he could not overcome the ennui of his teammates.
Reimer and rookie defenceman Petter Granberg, who made his NHL debut in Game 82, were the best players for the Leafs.
Then again, that is nothing out of the ordinary for Reimer as he always shows well against the Senators, starting three and a half years ago when he won his first NHL game in Ottawa. Going into the game, his career save percentage against them was .941. At the Senators’ arena, Reimer was 7-0-0 with a .970 save percentage coming into the game.
Reimer was called upon to stop a couple of breakaways, one of them shorthanded, and face a four-on-one rush, as his teammates turned in their typical effort of the last 14 games of the season, which resulted in 12 regulation-time losses.
The realization that could have been his last game as a Maple Leaf, as Jonathan Bernier took away the No. 1 goaltender’s job this season, stirred up much emotion for Reimer, who will be a restricted free agent on July 1.
“I always dreamed of being a Leaf ever since I was drafted [99th overall in 2006],” Reimer said. “It’s all I wanted to do, be here and be the guy. Just thinking that might not be the case now brings a lot of emotions.”
It is expected that Reimer will ask that his playing rights be traded this summer by the Leafs so he can go somewhere where he can compete for the No. 1 job but he did not “want to get into that” after the game.
Granberg looked like an NHL veteran, playing a physical game in his own end, the sort of thing Carlyle was looking for all season from his defencemen but rarely received. The 21-year-old Swede, who was taken by the Leafs in the fourth round of the 2010 NHL entry draft, will be given every opportunity to make the team next season at training camp.
The highlight of Granberg’s night came late in the second period when he broke up that four-on-one Ottawa rush. Yes, that’s right, a four-on-one. Then again, given the Leafs’ season long inattention to the defensive side of things, it was not unusual the new guy was the only one back. Welcome to the Leafs, Petter.
Actually, the Leafs opened the game playing not too badly. They matched the Senators rush-for-rush in the first period and then, true to form, began to fade. In winning their first three games over the Sens this season, the Leafs used their speed and energy to make the difference. But there was little evidence of that by the start of the third period.
Senators captain Jason Spezza scored the only goal of the first two periods with a nice one-timer on a power play at 7:35 of the second period. He drilled the shot off the post for his 23rd goal and 66th point of the season.
Like Reimer, Carlyle did not want to discuss what lies ahead for himself. With new Leafs president Brendan Shanahan expected to outline his vision for the organization at a press conference on Monday, changes are expected in the organization from top to bottom. At this point, Carlyle does not look like a good bet to serve out the final year of his contract, although a decision is not expected until Shanahan, general manager David Nonis and the rest of the Leafs management team reviews the season.
“It’s going to take some time to decipher everything that’s gone on,” Carlyle said. “There will be a lot of questions and internal banter back-and-forth on what we feel and what we need to do and what we should have done. All those things will take some time to get through.
“There are always going to be things we could have done differently for sure. Nobody here is absolving themselves of any responsibility.”
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