Well, nobody with the Toronto Maple Leafs was “just okay” Wednesday night.
They were absolutely dreadful from James Reimer on down. That includes whoever approved their NHL schedule, which saw the Leafs finish their long west-east road trip with back-to-back road and home games.
But that is only a partial excuse for the way they played in losing an important Atlantic Division game, 5-3, to the Tampa Bay Lightning. Instead of jumping over the Lightning and into third place in the division, the Leafs are now three points behind them and owners of a three-game losing streak.
Don’t let the score fool you. The Lightning were almost as bad defensively as the Leafs.
But the Leafs’ defensive work, particularly where it concerned local boy Steve Stamkos, was an embarrassment. Their offensive work suffered from a bad case of the cutes, as in drop passes at the Lightning blueline that turned rushes the other way.
Tired or not from their five-game road trip, there was no excuse for the way the Leafs paid no attention to the whereabouts of Stamkos whenever the Lightning star was on the ice. After all, he’s only done nothing but score since he showed up in this league six years ago. Stamkos got one of the easier hat tricks of his life thanks to the Leafs’ inattention.
The ugliness came on the injury front as well. Leafs defenceman Paul Ranger was immobilized, taken off the ice on a stretcher and to hospital when he was driven into the boards from behind by Lightning forward Alex Killorn with 4.1 seconds left in the first period. It appears he was fortunate to escape a severe injury, as the Leafs reported Ranger was “stable, conscious and alert.”
This good news allowed everyone to get back to the Leaf crisis du jour, which was the allegedly terrible treatment of Reimer by head coach Randy Carlyle. The coach, perhaps hoping to light a fire under his backup goaltender because he had to start him again Wednesday against Tampa Bay thanks to an injury to No. 1 goalie Jonathan Bernier, allowed that Reimer was “okay, just okay,” in Tuesday’s 3-2 loss to the Detroit Red Wings.
Well, judging by the reaction of the local fans and media, you would have thought Carlyle said Reimer makes Red Light Racicot look like a Hall-of-Famer. Reimer mildly protested he was better than okay. Then his agent got into the action, sending an accusatory tweet toward Leafs management in support of his client, which he later retracted.
Only in Toronto can a backup goaltender’s bruised feelings get the same news treatment as the federal finance minister’s resignation.
This was obviously Carlyle’s opinion as well, since he clearly still had his nose out of joint over the fuss when he was asked how he thought Reimer played against the Lightning.
“Just like the rest of our team,” the coach said. “I get into trouble when I comment about goalies with you [media] guys. I could say yes or no from here on in but I don’t think that would be fair would it?”
Yeesh. The NHL isn’t a kiddie tournament run by a school board where nobody keeps score and everyone gets a prize. This is professional sports for crying in a sink. Damn right they keep score. And jobs depend on it, including Carlyle’s. So if your coach is a little tepid in his comments, suck it up and show him what’s what the next time out.
Don’t get caught so far back in your net you’re beside the goal camera and cough up one from the blue line on the first shot of the game 59 seconds in. Then run it to three goals on the first eight shots you face.
If you want to show up the coach you make up for the fact your teammates are playing like slugs. But only the fact Lightning goaltender Ben Bishop and his defence was almost as bad kept the Leafs in it.
Reimer professed not to have paid much attention to the hoo-ha but admitted his response was less than satisfactory.
“I don’t even know all of what was said,” he said. “I try not to think about it. For me, I just want to come out and play well and be a difference-maker. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case.
“I felt I made some good saves but [it] definitely wasn’t the performance I was looking for. You want to be big and keep your team in it. That didn’t happen tonight.”
After Bolts defenceman Radko Gudas scored that softie from the blue line, the Leafs took the lead on goals from Phil Kessel, his 35th of the season, and Nikolai Kulemin. Then came Stamkos, as the Leafs watched him pot three in a row. Defenceman Jake Gardiner scored in the third period to bring the Leafs within one, but Tyler Johnson replied for the Lightning to end the threat.
By then, Reimer’s agent Ray Petkau had issued his clarification on Tuesday’s tweet that grumped the Leafs always blamed the goaltender.
“The tweet I sent out [Tuesday] night, while inadvertently relevant to other comments made, was not a response to post-game comments from Randy Carlyle or James Reimer. I didn't hear those interviews until later,” Petkau said in an e-mail message. “That said, obviously this has been a trying season for James but those are issues that we will deal with in the off-season.”
In other words, we want a trade. Somehow, we think, the franchise will survive.
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