The Maple Leafs enjoyed fabulous wins over the Ducks in Anaheim and Kings in Los Angeles, but had unsuccessful outings in San Jose, Washington and finally in Detroit, where the severely short-staffed Red Wings beat them 3-2 Tuesday night, writes Mike Brophy.
The Toronto Maple Leafs proved two things on their five-game road trip: They can play with the big boys, but they lack the consistency to be considered a threat to go deep in the playoffs.
Of course the way their season has gone, it is hard to read much into a five-game stint. Five games from now their season could have a completely different feel to it.
The Maple Leafs enjoyed fabulous wins over the Ducks in Anaheim and Kings in Los Angeles, but had unsuccessful outings in San Jose, Washington and finally in Detroit, where the severely short-staffed Red Wings beat them 3-2 Tuesday night.
Despite fielding largely an American Hockey League team, the Red Wings played with speed, precision and discipline as they try to work their way into the Eastern Conference playoff picture.
The Maple Leafs will host the Tampa Bay Lightning Wednesday at Air Canada Centre.
Toronto coach Randy Carlyle was not impressed with the officiating, surmising there was a lot of obstruction that was not called.
"The game was kind of back and forth and it seemed like there wasn't a lot of space out there," Carlyle said. "I thought interference was supposed to be called in the NHL, but tonight was a clear-cut difference maker in that area for us. It felt like there was a tremendous amount of interference all over the ice. [The Red Wings] disguised it and did a better job than we did."
Maple Leafs boo-boos
The Maple Leafs were also down a few players; centre David Bolland with that lingering Achilles' tendon injury and No. 1 goalie Jonathan Bernier with a pulled groin.
James Reimer made his second straight start for Toronto, but didn't overly impress his coach. Asked how he thought Reimer played, Carlyle candidly said, "I thought he was okay... just okay."
Top line troubles
For much of the second half of the season the Maple Leafs top trio of Phil Kessel, James van Riemsdyk and Tyler Bozak has been among the best lines in the NHL. However, in recent games they have come up empty. In the three games leading up to the Red Wings encounter, Kessel and Bozak were each held pointless and were a combined minus-9. Meanwhile, van Riemsdyk had no goals in seven games and was minus-5 in the past three.
Van Riemsdyk scored a goal late in the game to give Toronto a chance, but it wasn't enough. The trio combined for a minus-3 in the game. Kessel had seven shots on goal, but is now pointless in four games.
Keeping in mind Kessel and van Riemsdyk participated in the Winter Olympics for the United States in Sochi, Russia, perhaps a little funk is not to be unexpected.
Red Wings down
The Red Wings limped into the game missing regulars Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg, Stephen Weiss, Darren Helm, Jonas Gustavsson, Tomas Jurco, Dan Cleary, Joakim Andersson, Teemu Pulkinnen and Mikael Samuelsson.
Son of a gun
With all the Detroit injuries, the Red Wings summoned Landon Ferraro from the AHL's Grand Rapids. Ferraro was Detroit's first-round draft choice in 2009 and is the son of former NHLer Ray Ferraro, who had 408 goals and 898 points in 1,258 NHL games. Ray played his last game at Joe Louis Arena in Detroit and was in attendance for his son's NHL debut.
You can run, but you can't hide
Former Ottawa Senators captain Daniel Alfredsson signed with Detroit as a free agent last summer. He was booed mercilessly by Maple Leafs fans when he played for Ottawa and the tradition continued in Detroit.
Alfredsson got the last laugh when he scored to make it 3-1 late in the third period.
Another bad start
The Leafs fell behind 3-0 in their last game to Washington, 2-0 to Los Angeles the game before that and 1-0 to San Jose three games ago. So it was really no surprise when Detroit scored first. After a careless pass by Kessel in the Detroit zone was picked off, Gustav Nyquist broke away and took a shot that Reimer stopped. The momentum of the puck carried it toward the Toronto net and it banked in off Reimer's stick.
Reimer bounces back
With his team trailing 1-0 in the second period, Reimer made a remarkable splits save 41 seconds into the frame to rob Nyquist.
Leafs push back
Kessel took a breakaway pass from defenceman Jake Gardiner, but failed to connect and a minute later Nikolai Kulemin dangled his way past a few Red Wings and had a decent chance, but was unable to score.
Early in the third period, from just about the same spot that Kessel gave the puck away in the opening period, Joffrey Lupul did the same thing and again it was Nyquist breaking away and beating Reimer.
Missed call and injury
With his team leading 2-0 and on the rush, Red Wings' David Legwand tripped Toronto captain Dion Phaneuf with a hook behind the leg. The play went undetected by the two referees and Phaneuf was injured on the play. He departed for the dressing room, but eventually returned to action.
Jake Gardiner got the Leafs on the board with his ninth goal of the season thanks to a little help from his friend and roommate Morgan Rielly. Rielly drilled the puck into the Detroit zone and, after it bounced off the boards, Gardiner stuffed it home. It was the seventh goal from a defenceman in Toronto's past five games.
A few minutes later Nazem Kadri appeared to tie the game, but after his apparent power-play goal was reviewed, it was ruled to have been kicked in the net and therefore waved off.
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.