Three straight losses is not exactly what the Toronto Maple Leafs had in mind upon restarting the NHL season after the Olympic break.
But with a 2-1 defeat
to the visiting Columbus Blue Jackets Monday, that is exactly what has happened to them. It was also their third straight loss of the season to Columbus.
The Blue Jackets defeated the Leafs 5-2 Oct. 25 and then exactly one month later shut them out 6-0 in Toronto.
"They play a stingy game and don't give you too much," said Toronto defenceman Cody Franson. "They forecheck hard and smart and make you execute down low. If you don't you're going to get bit. They try to force turnovers. They had a game plan and executed it well."
In each of the Maple Leafs three post-Olympic games they have been defeated by one goal; the first two in overtime. They were road losses in Long Island and Montreal, with No. 1 goalie Jonathan Bernier off his game.
Against the Blue Jackets the Maple Leafs received quality goaltending from backup James Reimer, but his teammates offered him little goal support.
"Obviously we wanted a different outcome in those three games," Franson said, "but if you look at them, we were sloppy [against] the Islanders, but still gave ourselves a chance to win. I thought we played a decent game against Montreal. Penalty trouble cost us that one. We didn't play a full 60 minutes tonight and that's on us. The other two, I think could have gone the other way."
It was no surprise that Toronto coach Randy Carlyle opted to start Reimer for the first time since Jan. 25 after No. 1 goalie Jonathan Bernier did not look sharp in Toronto's first two post-Olympic games.
There was pressure on Reimer to produce a quality start, and he answered the bell at 3:17 of the opening period stopping Nick Foligno on a breakaway. That save was a real test for the goalie.
"It's kind of a real make-or-break save, and at the same time if you let it in you hope it doesn't break you," Reimer said. "Obviously that is a big save; you want to set the tone for yourself, but also for your team. You want everyone to know you are here to play and they're going to have to get in your face to get a goal."
Can't stop what you can't see
The Blue Jackets opened the scoring at 9:44 of the second period when defenceman Dalton Prout fired a slap shot from the point that Reimer could not see because of the players set up in front of the goal.
"I was trying to get a view of the puck and I was trying to look on the right side, but I just never got a good look at the puck," Reimer said. "I went down and tried to make a good guess at where it was going and I was wrong."
A little less than three minutes later, Reimer found himself playing without his stick for an extended period of time. Luckily, there was a skater's stick dropped by his goal so he scooped it up and used it.
It didn't help, though, as Columbus's Artem Anisimov scored his 16th of the season.
On the very next shift, Brandon Dubinsky of the Blue Jackets crashed the net, driving Reimer and the puck into the goal. The goal was waved off after it was determined the net had come free before the puck crossed the goal-line.
Boo birds out
The Maple Leafs left the ice after 40 minutes trailing 2-0 to a chorus of boos.
The Maple Leafs came within inches of making it 1-0 after a Phil Kessel shot got through Blue Jackets goalie Sergei Bobrovsky's legs, but stopped on the goal-line.
Columbus's Ryan Johansen eventually swatted it away.
Toronto's top two centres, Tyler Bozak and Nazem Kadri, each produced quality scoring chances in the third period, but came up empty. At 5:25, Bozak worked his way to the net, but shot wide, and then at 11:10 Kadri found himself in alone, but his backhand shot also missed the mark.
Not the goalie's fault
Winger Joffrey Lupul and coach Randy Carlyle both felt Reimer had a solid performance.
"Reims played well," Lupul said. "He gave us a chance to win for sure. We hung him out to dry for about 10 minutes in the second period and he battled like he always does."
Added Carlyle: "Reims made some big stops for us. He gave us a chance and battled real hard in there. I don't think you can point to the goaltending as a deficiency, that's for sure."
Reimer said he felt his team was playing very well before the break, which indeed the Maple Leafs were. The three losses since do not have him overly worried.
"I think some of it is a bit of an Olympic hangover," Reimer said. "The last three games have been anyone's game - all one-goal games - and two of them went into overtime. I think we were right there. All three wins could have been wins for us so I don't think it's anything to worry about."
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