“They kind of dominated us pretty much the whole game.”
They, in this case, being the Florida Panthers.
Us, in this case, being the Toronto Maple Leafs.
And the speaker, in this case, being Tyler Bozak, the befuddled Leafs top line centre said after a 4-1 loss to the Panthers that had all the hallmarks of a terrible Toronto game.
Dominated was a good way to put it, too, what with the Panthers outshooting the Leafs 20-5 at one point and ultimately 48-21 overall, with the minus-27 differential the most lopsided total in a season filled with them.
This is a team that has been outshot by 15 or more a stunning 17 times already this season, or 30 per cent of their games.
And Tuesday was the seventh time this season they have allowed 47 or more shots, something that has happened only 36 times in the 852 games played in the league this season.
Other NHL teams give their goalies that kind of insane workload every 28 games; the Leafs do it every eight.
Leafs games when outshot by 20+
SV per cent
Feb. 4: Panthers 4, Leafs 1
30 per cent
Dec. 5: Leafs 3, Stars 2 (OT)
32 per cent
Nov. 2: Canucks 4, Leafs 0
31 per cent
Jan. 4: Rangers 7, Leafs 1
34 per cent
Nov. 27: Penguins 6, Leafs 5 (SO)
33 per cent
Oct. 15: Leafs 4, Wild 1
28 per cent
Nov. 23: Leafs 2, Capitals 1 (SO)
36 per cent
Oct. 30: Leafs 4, Flames 2
34 per cent
Oct. 19: Blackhawks 3, Leafs 1
33 per cent
So it wasn’t all that shocking when netminder Jonathan Bernier blew past the media in the bowels of the Panthers arena after the game, declining to talk postgame for one of the only times all season. Instead, he let his teammates to speak for the poor performance they’d offered up in front of him.
“He kept us in that game the whole time,” Bozak lamented. “Stood on his head the whole game and gave us a chance to win and we just couldn’t get anything going. He played unbelievable yet again for us and unfortunately we didn’t have his back tonight.”
“I just pleaded to the group that we’ve got a goaltender that’s standing on his head,” Leafs coach Randy Carlyle said, recounting his message at the second intermission. “It’s a 1-0 hockey game and [we could] give ourselves a chance with a decent [third] period to steal some points.”
That obviously didn’t happen.
The Leafs were finally a little bit better come the third period – including David Clarkson making a rare appearance with his fourth goal of the season – but at the other end, the dam finally burst and Bernier allowed a couple goals once he was already past the 40-save mark.
It had to have been a horribly frustrating night on the whole for the young goaltender, who has been a star on so many occasions and stolen a lot of points by keeping his team in games it hasn’t always deserved.
The bizarre part of this one, however, was that the Leafs had seemed to be turning a corner of sorts, with their 9-1-1 run over the past few weeks coming with far more respectable shot totals, including outshooting the Ottawa Senators 36-26 in a convincing 6-3 win on the weekend.
But that’s really how Toronto’s season has gone, with these highs and lows coming randomly and getting a read on just what they are overall proving more difficult the longer the season goes.
What’s clear is that a central part of their identity on the negative side of things is just how much they rely on their goaltenders, especially in games like this. Even Bernier has referenced the Leafs defensive play several times already this season – a rarity for a goaltender – noting they need to improve to be considered a top team and referencing his former club in Los Angeles as a good example to aspire to.
The troubling thing is that Leafs puck possession issues (and, by extension, shot differential issues) took a turn for the worst almost immediately after Carlyle took over two years ago, just as the Anaheim Ducks – his former team – have had theirs progress in the other direction since he left.
That’s either a remarkable coincidence or an ominous sign that there’s something ingrained in the methodology at play.
So for all the good over the last little while, Tuesday’s game was another clear indication of some of the fundamental bad that still lurks underneath, especially when you consider the Panthers entered this one ranked third last in the league and Toronto had two days off.
How this team can play as inspired as they have against Ottawa, or the Montreal Canadiens, in recent wins and then lose in complete no-shows in Dallas and Sunrise soon after is perhaps the most pressing of all the many questions that Carlyle and his staff still need to find answers to.
In the immediate aftermath of Tuesday’s game, there weren’t many available.
“We just didn’t seem to have any jump or passion to play the game,” Carlyle said. “It’s kind of mindboggling right now… There’s no excuse for our performance the way we played tonight.”
“We’ve had a few tough games all year, but I don’t think any were that bad,” added Mason Raymond. “We were outplayed in all aspects of the game.”
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