Cue The Four Tops – It’s The Same Old Song for the Toronto Maple Leafs.
That 7-3 win over the Chicago Blackhawks last Saturday? Must have been a full moon.
The Leafs went back to showcasing the worst parts of their game Tuesday night in a 3-1 loss to the Florida Panthers, the appalling play in their own end, giveaways and brain cramps. Throw in a listless physical effort in which they lost almost every fight for the puck and it was a classic demonstration of why they have just one regulation-time win in their last 14 games.
It was the same old song in the injury department as well. Centre Trevor Smith was lost when he stopped a shot with his hand and sustained a broken bone. The Leafs did not say how long he is expected to be out but it could be at least four weeks.
One oddity followed the game when the players rejected the obvious excuse – that Monday’s game was their second in as many nights and fifth in the last seven – but their head coach Randy Carlyle, normally a no-excuses kind of guy, offered it.
“Right now, we're not putting together 60 minutes,” said Leafs goaltender James Reimer after a long pause. “We either have guys, or half a team, or a full team that don't show up in parts. Then things go wrong. And pucks go in your net. And you feel bad about yourself.
“I don' t know if there's one specific reason, except for the fact that we need to find a way to come bring it every night, for 60 minutes a night consecutively. That's really the only way to get out of it. It starts with hard work. And looking at yourself in the mirror.”
Carlyle said his team “tried to play shinny against an NHL hockey club” but was more forgiving when it came to the reasons.
“We cannot be proud of our performance tonight,” he said. “In tonight’s game, the low compete level was a culmination of being worn down [and] the pressure that gets to you in certain situations.
“It was our fifth game in seven nights and we did not win enough battles along the wall or did not compete to win enough battles along the wall, thus forcing us to receive the game.”
By the time Leafs captain Dion Phaneuf coughed up the puck in the second period for a Brad Boyes goal that put the Panthers ahead 3-0, the 19,076 fans at the Air Canada Centre had seen enough. After showing some impatience earlier in the game, the fans let their heroes have it, raining down the boos following Phaneuf’s gaffe.
The boos returned early in the third period when the Leafs committed their most egregious faux pas on a night chock full of them. Somehow, while they were on the power play, the Leafs managed to hand the Panthers a three-on-one rush. They were fortunate Panthers forward Shawn Matthias missed an open net to end the play.
Phaneuf had lots of company in the mistakes department. Just about everybody got into the act and by the third period Carlyle was scrambling his lines and his defence pairs and nailing a few people to the bench. Notable among the latter was defenceman Jake Gardiner, who earned a seat when he gave the puck away to set up a goal by Panthers forward Sean Bergenheim.
“He struggled with the puck on the one goal,” Carlyle said. “It’s pretty hard to defend a player in that position and I told him so.”
You could also include Carlyle among the long list of Leafs who did not have a great night. He decided to split up the Joffrey Lupul-Peter Holland-Mason Raymond line that clicked for four goals against the Blackhawks. He dropped Raymond to the fourth line and put David Clarkson, back from a two-game suspension, on the right side with Lupul and Holland.
But any hope that this might finally produce a spark in Clarkson, who has been one of the worst Leafs so far in his debut season with his hometown team, disappeared early. Once again, Clarkson looked out of his depth and the fans let him have it in the first period when he took a holding-the-stick penalty after he could not handle a Panthers forward.
By the third period, Raymond was back with Holland and Lupul and he scored his 11 goal of the season to spoil Panthers goaltender Scott Clemmensen’s shutout bid.
“What we tried to do was spread a little offence to move him down,” Carlyle said of Raymond, admitting it wasn’t fair to the player. “We thought that was an opportunity for him to play against lesser players but that didn’t work.”
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