Mikhail Grabovski was not with the Toronto Maple Leafs Thursday night. Apparently, the teams much-vaunted, highly-paid defence corps was present - although it was hard to tell.
Forget waffles. Turnovers were the order of the day in the Leafs 3-2 loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets. The Leafs were charged with 10 giveaways according to the official statistics sheet - three by Francois Beauchemin and two more by Tomas Kaberle. Ten? Who's keeping track of the numbers? It felt like they turned the puck over 10 times in the first period alone.
Kristian Huselius had a pair of goals for the Blue Jackets while R.J. Umberger tipped in Rick Nash's wrist shot past Jonas Gustavsson's glove at the 3:34 mark of the third period that gave the Blue Jackets their first regulation win in nine road games.
Umberger's goal came with Joey Crabb serving a holding penalty, one of just three penalties assessed in the game by referees Frederick L'Ecuyer and Dan O'Halloran.
Nothing was thrown on the ice at the Air Canada Centre - indeed, the only littering came from the ritualistic undressing of Beauchemin, Mike Komisarek and Tomas Kaberle by several Blue Jackets - but there was braying a-plenty as the Leafs lowered the curtain on 2010. Unfortunately, there's still the 2011 portion of the schedule to be played.
Nikolai Kulemin and Tyler Bozak scored for the Leafs, who remarkably found themselves tied after 40 minutes. That's a testament to the Blue Jackets god-awful finish around the net as much as anything.
No answers from Wilson
Leafs head coach Ron Wilson doesn't have any answers to what ails his team - newsflash, that - but he tossed his defence corps under the bus afterward, so it wasn't an entirely lost night for quote hunting. Beauchemin, in particular, was ham-handed - although forward Phil Kessel also deserves special mention for the manner in which his pocket was picked in the Blue Jackets end on
Huselius's first goal. Awful stuff.
"We played relatively okay in the first period, we were awful in the second period and tonight our defence had a tough night," Wilson said. "Handling pucks … misreading rushes … some pretty bad giveaways. We weren't moving the puck quickly and it slowed down our offence. As the game went on it kept getting harder and harder and (defence) partners weren't supporting each other. The speed went out of our game. We wasted a lot of time chasing down loose pucks in the neutral zone."
True. All of it. And it was left to Clarke MacArthur to cover the 'whither the Leafs?' angle after the game, wondering openly where the desperation went in the third period. Um, we'll get back to you on that, but the guess is October is a good place to start looking ...
Labour of love
This is one labour crisis that even the most reactionary puckhead can't blame on new players union chief Donald Fehr. Grabovski was scratched after his girlfriend reportedly went into labour with the couple's first child meaning that Darryl Boyce got to take the cab ride to the Air Canada Centre. Boyce logged 16 minutes and 34 seconds ice-time and collected his first point, assisting on Kulemin's goal that opened the scoring at 15:19 of the first period. Grabovski, who had a goal in eight of his 10 games and is on a modest six-game point streak with seven points (including five goals) is expected back Saturday against the Ottawa Senators. Leafs v. Sens? Woot - that ought to be a gem!
Praise from Gustavsson
The Blue Jackets outshot the Leafs 32-22, including 11-3 in the second period. And wouldn't you know it? That nice Jonas Gustavsson tried to talk up his teammates, who blocked 25 shots - which is the least they can do when they turn over the puck. "They (the Blue Jackets) threw more pucks at the net than the Carolina Hurricanes did, and it's huge for me when they block shots," said Gustavsson, the Leafs goaltender. "Our first period was pretty good. I thought we matched their intensity and we were leading (2-1) but they were able to get the puck deep on us in the second period and we couldn't get it out." The Leafs looked early as if they'd get some love from Blue Jackets goaltender Steve Mason, who has never met a juicy rebound he doesn't like to give up. Watching Mason play goal is like watching a punter shank kicks all day long, but the Leafs - alas - couldn't make him pay. That's why they're the Leafs.