The Toronto Maple Leafs were embarrassed 6-1 by the Carolina Hurricanes on Thursday, consequently dropping out of a playoff spot. If Leafs general manager Dave Nonis is looking for a list of things he should be concerned about, he has plenty of options, writes Mike Brophy.
On the one-year anniversary of his appointment as general manager of the Toronto Maple Leafs, Dave Nonis finds himself painted into a corner.
One year on the job and a strong case could be made his work has just begun. If there is such a thing as a grace period in a new job, Nonis's is over.
His Maple Leafs made the playoffs last year for the first time in eight seasons and after a good start to this year, they have fallen on hard times. Despite locking up captain Dion Phaneuf and top scorer Phil Kessel on huge long-term deals, the Maple Leafs are now in jeopardy of missing the playoffs.
They were embarrassed 6-1 by the Hurricanes in Carolina on Thursday and consequently dropped out of a playoff spot. They will face the Capitals in Washington Friday night before hosting the New Jersey Devils at the Air Canada Centre Sunday night.
Toronto has now lost three games in a row since winning the Winter Classic in a shootout over the Detroit Red Wings Jan. 1 in Ann Arbor, Michigan.
If Nonis is looking for a list of things he should be concerned about, he has plenty of options.
It probably starts with suddenly poor goaltending, although of all his concerns, this might be the most temporary. James Reimer, who was pulled in two of his previous four starts, didn't receive much support from his teammates against the Hurricanes, but clearly continued to struggle regardless. His running mate, Jonathan Bernier, has also struggled of late.
Former Maple Leafs goalie Mike Palmateer, 59, who looked great in one of the alumni games in Ann Arbor, may get the start in Washington Friday.
Then there is leading scorer Phil Kessel going through one of his dry spells yet again. The streaky right-winger has scored goals in just two of Toronto's past 11 games. Kessel has three shots on goal against the Hurricanes, but no serious scoring chances. He was otherwise invisible.
There is also an eight-man defensive corps that seemingly can't defend. The Leafs get out-shot night after night. Nine times this season the Maple Leafs have given up 40-plus shots and four times it has been 50-plus shots. One defender the team gave up on, veteran John-Michael Liles, scored against them Thursday.
Perhaps Nonis's biggest concern should be his team's lack of compete. There is currently no fight in this team. They are being led by a coach who wants them to play a gritty game and they throw his instructions right back in his face. They are soft and passive.
Nonis is a patient man, but his boss, CEO and president Tim Leiweke is not. If Nonis isn't thinking about making a move or two to jump-start his team, the request to do so may come from above.
Following the game coach Carlyle appears to be growing more and more exasperated with his players. Asked what he'd like to see his team do differently in Washington Friday, he said, "The first thing we can do is move our feet because we stood around a lot tonight," Carlyle said. "For whatever reason we're doing things standing still and watching teams skate. We're not engaged in the hockey game to a level to give ourselves a chance. It seems like we just stand still and try to make plays and we don't skate. We're a step behind."
The Maple Leafs had trouble finding the net in Carolina one day after sending Peter Holland and his five goals (in 22 games) to the minors and replacing him with Carter Ashton who has no goals in 34 NHL games now. Carter is a hard worker, no question about it. He has 10 goals in his last 12 games with the AHL Marlies, but he can't find the net in the NHL. Against Carolina he played 3:42 on seven shifts and was minus-2.
Veteran winger Joffrey Lupul tried to spark his team by engaging in a fight -- the fifth of his NHL career -- against Carolina's Justin Faulk in the third period. Probably a case of too little, too late.
Carolina welcomed back former Hurricane defenceman Tim Gleason who was traded to Toronto last week for fellow defender John-Michael Liles. Gleason was held out of the lineup against the New York Rangers, but made his Maple Leafs debut Tuesday in a loss to the New York Islanders.
Gleason had a hand in the first Hurricanes goal. A centering pass from behind the Toronto net bounced off his skate directly to Zach Boychuk who snapped a backhander past Maple leafs goalie James Reimer at 2:33 of the first period. Gleason had three shots and three hits in 18:12 ice time and took one minor penalty.
Right-winger David Clarkson missed the Islanders game with a bruised foot, but was back in action against Carolina. Clarkson seemed to be having trouble with his foot and missed part of the second period while having it attended to in the dressing room.
View from the press box: With the Maple Leafs carrying eight defencemen on the roster, Paul Ranger and Jake Gardiner were the odd men out. Carl Gunnarsson returned from an elbow injury and Mark Faser also played. Tough guy Frazer McLaren, a left-winger, also sat.
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.