The storyline continues for the Maple Leafs, writes Mike Brophy. Toronto simply refused to
shoot the puck and despite building a 4-1 lead over the Penguins in
Pittsburgh Wednesday night, they wound up suffering a 6-5 shootout loss.
The storyline continues.
The Toronto Maple Leafs simply refused to shoot the puck and despite building a 4-1 lead over the Penguins in Pittsburgh Wednesday night, they wound up suffering a 6-5 shootout loss.
The final score only tells part of the story.
It was the way the Maple Leafs lost that will linger. Coming off a 6-0 defeat at home to the Columbus Blue Jackets Monday night, the Maple Leafs appeared determined to make amends. Even though they fell behind 1-0 early, the surged forward with four straight goals and had the game in hand.
Then they went comatose.
Not only did the Penguins outscore Toronto 4-1 in the final 31:33 of regulation time, Pittsburgh held the Maple Leafs to no shots on goal -- that's right, NO SHOTS ON GOAL -- in the third and overtime periods. Pittsburgh outshot Toronto 17-0 in the third period and 2-0 in overtime.
Being outshot is a constant theme for the Maple Leafs this season. They have now been outshot in 21 of 25 games. They outshot their opponents three times and once both teams were tied in shots. Being outshot by Pittsburgh 48-24 marked the sixth time this season they have been outshot by 20 or more shots.
"We received the whole third period," said Toronto coach Randy Carlyle. "We didn't skate and didn't forecheck or establish much...there's no explanation for us not getting any shots in the third period when we have an old enough group and a veteran corps that should be able to grab a hold of it. We score a goal late in the second period and should have had momentum going into the third."
Coach Carlyle wasn't impressed with the officiating, particularly in the third period when his team went down two men. Toronto centre Jarred Smith was assessed a holding penalty for taking out Pittsburgh defenceman Kris Letang on what appeared like a routine play.
"The hold against Smithson, in my mind looking at it, was a pretty soft call," Carlyle said. "I don't know what he's supposed to do. He got on the right side of the guy and took him out. They saw it differently."
Carlyle was also upset about Pittsburgh's fifth goal in which Evgeny Malkin bumped Toronto goalie Jonathan Bernier and then scored from in the crease.
"He pushed the goaltender first and then pushed the goaltender into the net and deposited the puck," Carlyle said. "But we're not supposed to complain about that stuff."
Asked if he got an explanation from the referees, Carlyle said, "No, by that time (the referees) didn't want to talk to anybody. They get, uh, to a position where they think they don't have to talk to people, I guess."
Long-time rivals Dion Phaneuf of the Maple Leafs and Sidney Crosby of Penguins were at each other's throats all game. Neither player is known as a fighter, per say, but both players are known to give back when challenged. Their rivalry dates back 10 years to when they were trying out for Team Canada to compete at the World Junior Championship. The pair jostled their way into minor penalties in the second period.
Defenceman Jake Gardiner was a healthy scratch for the first time this season in the game against the Penguins. The same player who seemed to arrive as an impact NHLer during last year's playoffs against Boston when he scored a goal and five points in six games and was to be able to control the pace of the game, has looked decidedly unsure of himself this season. Rather than build of what was an otherwise respectable playoff, Gardiner has not been thrust into a difference-maker's role. He has been getting decent ice time at an average of 20:15 per game, but he does not get first power play duty and has just five assists in 24 games,
It appears at times coach Randy Carlyle doesn't have confidence in him or is not prepared to push him to the net level and Gardiner has not been the take-charge player he was last year. At 23, Gardiner should be more of an impact player if he is ever to be a top-two D-man. To be fair to Carlyle, he is perfectly justified in sitting Gardiner against Pittsburgh after a poor performance Monday against Columbus.
It is worth noting Gardiner was on the ice for the overtime goal that knocked the Maple Leafs out of the playoffs last season. He lost a puck battle in front of the net to Patrice Bergeron who scored the game-winner. The Maple Leafs, you'll recall, blew a three-goal third period lead in that one.
Could the coach be holding a grudge? Or is the player simply not taking the next step?
Right-winger David Clarkson was nailed on the foot with a shot by teammate Nikolai Kulemin during a shooting drill during warm-up, but was still able to be part of the starting lineup even though he limped off the ice after taking the stinger.
Maple Leafs captain Dion Phaneuf has been asked to keep his shots from the point a little lower (than ear level) and when he did in the first period, he was rewarded with an assist as James van Riemsdyk tipped home a goal that put Toronto ahead 2-1.
Toronto's Nazem Kadri served a three-game suspension for hammering Minnesota goalie Niklas Backstrom Nov. 13 and was back at it again Wednesday in Pittsburgh running over Penguins goalie Jeff Zatkoff earning himself a minor for goalie interference.
Olympic dreams fading
Pittsburgh goalie Marc-Andre Fleury and defenceman Kris Letang are two players that have not played themselves on to the Canadian Olympic team this season. Their performance against Toronto Wednesday certainly won't help. Fleury wandered behind the net with his team trailing 2-1 early in the second period and after a miscommunication with Letang, watched helplessly as van Riemsdyk notched his second of the game into a vacant net. He was pulled after that goal.
Just 29 seconds later Letang misplayed the puck and Toronto struck again on the first shot they put on replacement goalie Jeff Zatkoff.
Letang is an offensive defenceman who entered the game with just four goals and five points in 16 games. To his credit he recovered from his defensive miscues and enjoyed his best offensive game of the season with a goal and two assists. It was his first multi-point game of the season.
Top pick signs
The Maple Leafs signed their No. 1 pick from the 2012 NHL Entry Draft, Frederik Gauthier, to a three-year entry-level contract Wednesday. Gauthier, the 21st overall pick in the draft, is a six-foot-five centre who weighs 215 pounds. He has five goals and 21 points with Rimouski (Crosby's old team) in the QMJHL.
"He is off to a solid start to his season playing a strong two-way game," said Toronto's vice-president of hockey operations Dave Poulin.
Gauthier has a solid showing in two games for the QMJHL against a touring Russian All-Star team and is expected to have a good shot at representing Canada at the WJC.
Toronto goalie Jonathan Bernier appeared to be well on his way to a win, but ultimately lost. That marks the 14th straight time an opposing goalie facing the Penguins for the first time in his career has suffered a defeat.
Mike BrophyMike Brophy brings a wealth of hockey writing and broadcasting experience to CBC Sports, having covered junior hockey for 14 years before joining The Hockey News as its senior writer for 17 years starting in 1992. Most recently, the Burlington, Ont., native worked as a writer/commentator at Rogers Sportsnet and as co-host of The Power Play on SiriusXM. Mike has written four books, including My First Goal, featuring 50 players describing their first NHL goals.