Soon -- very soon -- the playoffs could be in doubt for the Toronto Maple Leafs, writes Mike Brophy, especially after a listless 6-3 loss to the St. Louis Blues on Thursday.
Soon -- very soon -- the playoffs could be in doubt.
After a great start to the season during which time the Toronto Maple Leafs were positioned at the top of the overall standings, they are in a death slide now. A 6-3 loss to the Blues in St. Louis means Toronto has now lost eight of its last 10 games. They host the Chicago Blackhawks Saturday (CBC, CBCSports.ca at 6:30 p.m. ET) and then face the Penguins in Pittsburgh Monday.
"For our hockey club tonight, it looked like we were totally brain dead in a lot of areas," said a very candid Toronto coach Randy Carlyle. "I don't know any other way to describe it from a standpoint of where the goals are being scored from."
Carlyle said the team has systems were coverage is expected and if players vacate those specific areas, chances are the opposition will get juicy scoring chances. That was certainly the case against the Blues. He added the Blues had too much freedom to roam in the Maple Leafs defensive zone.
The Maple Leafs, a little uncharacteristically, put forth their best overall effort a night earlier in a 3-1 loss to the Los Angeles Kings. Turns out that game was just an aberration. In fact, a skeptic would suggest the Kings played the night before in Montreal and, in all likelihood, probably took the Maple Leafs lightly. But at least Toronto's effort suggested the players understood the style of hockey they need to play to make their coach happy and to be successful.
There was no carry over 24 hours later. The Maple Leafs were ill-prepared to face one of the best teams in the league and were quickly out of it as St. Louis built a 3-0 lead 16:10 into the contest. The final score was actually flattering because the Maple Leafs never appeared to have a chance to win.
Carlyle mentioned the fact the Maple Leafs didn't arrive in St. Louis until 3 a.m. after the game against the Kings, but added, "We were definitely flat on emotion and energy. We didn't have much of a defence for them."
With his team sliding, Carlyle admitted that, big picture, things are not looking good.
"Our concern is very high," he said. "We thought with our performance last night it was something we could build on, but we just didn't have any kind of energy to even put forth an effort that was needed."
Toronto's starting goalie James Reimer lost his stick, but managed to make a great pad save on the Blues Jaden Schwartz. However, he could not handle the rebound and Schwartz connected to give the Blues a 2-0 lead.
On the first shift of the second period defenceman Mark Fraser dropped his stick and was unable to defend as the Blues struck to make it 4-0.
Carlyle pulled Reimer after he allowed three goals and while he said it wasn't his fault the team lost, the move had to be made.
"They scored three goals on 15 shots and then the loss of the goalie stick. It led you to believe it wasn't his night," Carlyle said.
Penalty-killer's penalties kill
The Maple Leafs' penalty-killing has been struggling for a few weeks and it certainly doesn't help when their best player when shorthanded, centre Jay McClement, is sent to the penalty box. With a tripping penalty in the first period, McClement has now been penalized in four of Toronto's past six games. The Maple Leafs killed off his tripping penalty in St. Louis, but the opposition scored on McClement's three previous minors. The Leafs have given up a power play goal in nine straight games.
With the exception of starting goaltenders (Jonathan Bernier out, James Reimer in), Maple Leafs coach Randy Carlyle rewarded the players that played their best game of the season in a 3-1 loss to the Los Angeles Kings Wednesday. That included defenceman Paul Ranger who made an ill-advised pinch on the Kings game-winning goal that Carlye called, "a bad decision." In fact, Ranger was in the starting lineup.
They gave away what they now need: When Alex Steen was picked in the first round of the 2002 Entry Draft by the Maple Leafs, he was projected to be a responsible top-six forward. Now he's a top 10 scorer for the Blues. Steen was traded, along with defenceman Carlo Colaiacovo to St. Louis for right-winger Lee Stempniak who never caught on in Toronto. With a goal and an assist against Toronto, Steen is having his best NHL season, challenging for the league scoring title and Hart Trophy as MVP. Only Washington's Alex Ovechkin, with 26, has more goals than Steen's 22.
Can't score, may as well fight
Toronto right-winger David Clarkson, with just one assist in his past 10 games, tried to spark his team with a late second period fight against the Blues Roman Polak. It didn't work.
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.