With No. 1 goaltender Jonathan Bernier back between the pipes after
missing five games with the pulled groin, the Toronto Maple Leafs
continued their downward slide in a 5-3 loss to the St. Louis Blues, writes Mike Brophy.
So, just in case you were wondering, the losing streak was not all James Reimer's fault.
With No. 1 goaltender Jonathan Bernier back between the pipes after missing five games with the pulled groin, the Toronto Maple Leafs continued their downward slide.
Bernier played superbly and yet the Maple Leafs still lost 5-3 to the St. Louis Blues. In case you have lost count that marks the team's sixth straight loss. The Maple Leafs play the Flyers in Philadelphia Friday night and then host the Detroit Red Wings Saturday.
Can you say eight-game losing streak?
With the loss and the Washington Capitals falling 5-4 in the shootout, the Maple Leafs dropped out of a playoff spot for the first time since Jan. 14.
It was obvious from the outset the Blues were the better hockey team. Even though the Maple Leafs scored a pair of third period goals to get back into the game, St. Louis would only bend and not break.
Throughout the losing streak, there has been a common there: The Leafs fall behind early and then step it up to get back into the game, but ultimately don't have enough to win it. Or even get to overtime, for that matter.
"The start of the games we do employ a system that allows our D-men to be involved, but in this game specifically we did not have the puck and when we'd get it we'd just slap it around," coach Randy Carlyle said. "It was like we were frozen for 30 minutes of the hockey game. They did a lot of things that we're trying to convince out hockey club to do as far as hanging on to the puck a little bit more, playing that low-to-high game, play the change of sides."
The Maple Leafs stopper did his part early as the Blues registered six shots on goal before the Maple leafs got their first. It was as though his teammates were so happy to see him back they just stood around and watched him make save after save.
Bernier dropped to the ice and stretched at virtually every stoppage of play.
This one's for you
Fans cheered loudly when Bernier made save on the first two shots of the game -- both of the routine variety. Goaltending has been a huge issue during the team's five-game losing streak.
Bernier then treated the fans to a fantastic pad stop on Jaden Schwartz from in tight earning another more serious cheer.
The Blues were all over the Maple Leafs from the get-go and Toronto didn't get its first shot on goal until 5:59.
Follow the bouncing puck
Nazem Kadri had a solid chance to put the Maple Leafs up 1-0 on the power play, but couldn't negotiate contact with the bouncing puck. It eventually bounced over to Joffrey Lupul who swatted it into the net for his 21st goal of the season.
It was the first time in eight games the Maple Leafs scored the first goal of the game.
Toronto captain Dion Phaneuf had a horrible game. He made a mental mistake while killing a penalty late in the first period that led to the Blues taking a 2-1 lead. With the play in the Toronto zone, Phaneuf got the puck and had plenty of room to shoot it down the ice, but he held on to it to allow the clock to run down. Bad move. Oshie knocked it away and it would up on the stick of David Backus who shot between Bernier's legs. The fans let Phaneuf know they did not appreciate his gaffe.
More troubles for Phaneuf
Phaneuf had the puck in the St. Louis zone, but turned it over and before you could say, "Uh oh," the Blues recovered it and made a pass to Backes who broke in alone and scored his second of the night.
And yet more Phaneuf
Late in the second period the Blues Alexander Steen won a physical confrontation with Phaneuf in front of the Toronto net. Phaneuf ended up on the ice and Steen got the puck and scored his 31st goal of the season.
David Clarkson, who has struggled mightily in his first year in Toronto, goaded fellow veteran Brendan Morrow into a second period fight after the Maple Leafs fell behind 4-1. That seems to be the only role he can fill these days.
Gunnar pops one
Defenceman Carl Gunnarssson hopped on a loose puck in the St. Louis zone and scored his third goal of the season -- first since Jan. 20 -- to pull the Maple Leafs to within two early in the third period.
Kessel the passer
Toronto's Phil Kessel was about to carry the puck behind the Blues net, but spotted linemate James van Riemsdyk behind him so he dropped it back and van Riemsdyk scored to make it 4-3 at 15:54.
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.