The push for a playoff spot has been more like a retreat for the Toronto
Maple Leafs and Washington Capitals in the past two weeks.
one of these struggling Eastern Conference clubs had to win when the
Maple Leafs and Capitals met up at the Air Canada Centre on Saturday
evening. Much to the disappointment of Toronto fans, Alexander Ovechkin
and the Capitals prevailed with an easy 4-2 victory, even though they
played the night before at home.
It was apparent from the
opening shift which team had more urgency in their game. Washington's
Brooks Laich beat Tim Connolly on the opening face-off and while the
Capitals defence controlled the puck, Laich and his linemates Troy
Brouwer and Matt Henricks headed to the bench for a quick line change.
the boards hopped the Ovechkin unit and swiftly the Capitals had a 1-0
advantage on a wraparound goal from Marcus Johansson, 32 seconds into
the game. A little more than three minutes later, Maple Leafs defenceman
Luke Schenn committed a turnover for an unassisted goal from Alexander
Semin and the crowd of 19,577 knew which way this game was headed.
much for Toronto's gameplan to play well defensively and help out their
leaky netminding situation. The Maple Leafs faithful blamed James
Reimer anyway. They gave the Toronto goalie the old Bronx cheer for the
rest of the first period and despite some better play from Reimer in the
second the Capitals two-goal lead swelled to 4-0 before Colby Armstrong
and Connolly checked in for two meaningless third-period goals.
was a bad day all around for Toronto. The Florida Panthers rallied for a
3-2 shootout win, and both the Winnipeg Jets and Buffalo Sabres picked
up a point. So now the 10th-place Maple Leafs find themselves three
points back of the eighth-place Winnipeg Jets, two behind the
ninth-place Capitals and only three in front of the surging Sabres.
loss to the Capitals was a result that exhibited the Maple Leafs are
not ready to snap their eight-year playoff-less streak. They haven't
handled the pressure well of being in a playoff race at this crucial
time of the year. They have just one win in nine games, and they have
made the decision easy for general manager Brian Burke to continue the
rebuilding process on Monday before the trade deadline rather than
making a hasty move by mortgaging the future.
This roster still
has plenty of holes and little experience playing in meaningful games.
After the loss to Washington, Maple Leafs coach Ron Wilson blamed his
goaltending again and all the trade rumours that has enveloped his team
for the past few weeks. The 56-year-old coach didn't take any
responsibility for being unable to get his players to relax and perform
at this nervous time of the season.
The Maple Leafs returned
home earlier last weekend from a six-game stretch that saw them win only
once.They hoped to keep a hold on a playoff spot with a strong
four-game homestand, but instead have picked up only a point in the
first three games.
On Tuesday, the Leafs will compete the stay
at home against the Panthers. It will be Wilson's 1,400th game behind an
NHL bench, tying him with Pat Quinn for fourth on the all-time list.
Maybe the team will play better with the trade deadline in the rearview
mirror. Maybe they'll play better simply because the pressure of the
playoff race will have lifted slightly.
It's not too late for
Toronto to turnaround its season. But it just doesn't seem like Wilson,
Burke and this group are capable of making a late-season run at a
playoff berth after their work in the past few weeks.
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