Saturday, March 4, 2017

Maple Leafs ‘caught with pants down’ against Ducks

The bleeding must stop.

For six consecutive games, those fun-times, world-beating Toronto Maple Leafs blew a lead. For five straight games, hockey’s (arguably) scariest and (certainly) most-talked-about offence failed to score more than twice. And for at least four more nights, Toronto will remain on the outside looking in at a playoff picture they used to be part of.

Of all the Eastern Conference clubs with playoff hopes, Toronto has the worst record over its past 10 outings (3-4-3). As the stakes have risen, the Leafs have wilted.

“The NHL is too good a league to think you can outscore your mistakes,” coach Mike Babcock told reporters. “You can’t win by getting a touchdown in the National Hockey League. You got to play right.”

Toronto’s five-game slump is its worst all year, and the club must wait until Tuesday’s home date versus Detroit to reverse course.

Here are seven takeaways from Friday’s humbling 5-2 loss at Honda Center.

California nightmare

Not only did Toronto manage but a single point during the treacherous California road trip, but the Leafs went 0-for-6 against San Jose, L.A. and Anaheim this season—a smart reality check of how far this team needs to grow.

Their record against Western Conference opponents tumbled to 9-10-7, and physically the Leafs get worked against teams of this mould.

A snapshot? Josh Manson on James van Riemsdyk:

Kids were just alright

Inexperience trumped exuberance on this night for the young Leafs, and a theme is developing. In each of Toronto’s California games, a defensive gaffe led to a blown lead and a lost opportunity to gather valuable points in a playoff race that’s getting tighter than a Botox clinic’s reservation list.

Anaheim’s opening goal off the rush resulted from an ill-advised Jake Gardiner pinch on the offensive half wall and a poor defensive switch by Mitch Marner.

The rookie temporarily redeemed himself by toe-dragging Ryan Kesler and setting up a Nazem Kadri power-play goal early in the second period, giving the visitors a 2-1 lead.

Marner’s 35th assist triggered a $212,000 salary bonus and put him just five away from a franchise rookie record that has only stood for 73 years; Gus Bodnar had 40 apples in 1943-44.

But Marner soon gave the puck away to Kesler, who set up Jakob Silfverberg. That mistake resulted in a quick strike and a 2-2 tie.

Sixteen seconds later, Connor Brown failed to clear the zone, Rickard Rakell slipped unchecked behind the Leafs defenders, beat Curtis McElhinney, and Anaheim regained a lead it would never relinquish.

“I guess we got caught with our pants down, and it ended up costing us the game,” McElhinney told reporters.

Fitting that Toronto’s rookie mistakes came just hours after this…

Maurice makes eyebrow-raising comment on Babcock

Prior to the Winnipeg’s 3-0 shutout of the St. Louis Blues Friday, under-fire Jets coach Paul Maurice made a glib comment with regard to how he has positioned his young, developing players in comparison to the Leafs head coach.

“The mistakes that I’ve made, I did just a horrible job in relation to my colleague Mike Babcock in selling our age and the mistakes,” Maurice said.

“So, when they’ve lost a game it’s just a wonderful learning experience, and they win it’s a triumph of character, and we have the opposite thing going on here, right.

“But that’s my choice because I don’t ever want to walk into a season and say we aren’t here to win the Stanley Cup.”

Watch here:

Rakell is the new Perry

Remember when Rakell waited until after the season began to ink a six-year contract with the Ducks?

Security is a good look for the team and the 23-year-old centre, whom Bob Murray stole for a $3.8 million cap hit.

All the Swede does is finish. Rakell scored goals number 25 and 26 Friday, both in close, and handily leads all Ducks in scoring despite missing 11 games due to surgery. (For comparison’s sake, name-brand stars Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry are tied for fifth in team goals with 11 apiece.)

Jakob Silfverberg potted Anaheim’s prettiest goal, roofing a backhand past McElhinney. The winger should have no trouble reaching 20 goals for the second consecutive season and will be targeted by Las Vegas in the expansion draft lest Murray can spin some more magic.

Meanwhile, the struggling Perry failed to get on the score sheet and committed three penalties.

Don’t read this if you’re a Leafs fan

Rakell’s rampage stings extra for the Maple Leafs.

Back at the 2011 draft, Toronto traded the 30th and 39th overall picks to Anaheim because it wanted to move up and select at 22. The Leafs used the 22nd pick to take Tyler Biggs. He’s yet to make the NHL and is currently having a decent campaign in the ECHL.

Anaheim grabbed Rakell at 30 and its current No. 1 goalie, John Gibson, at 39.

Another dash of salt? The Leafs also took Stuart Percy (25th overall) ahead of Rakell and Gibson.

The offside review needs to end yesterday

A three-minute stoppage in play dragged the first period’s momentum to a boring halt as Randy Caryle challenged Zach Hyman’s game-tying tip-in of a Nikita Zaitsev point shot.

As with so many of this season’s offside challenges, the Leafs’ questionable zone entry—another tie-goes-to-the-runner freeze frame—came well in advance of the goal and was far from a gaffe on the linesman’s part.

We don’t blame Carlyle for challenging. That’s his card to play.

We do blame the NHL for over-correcting and over-regulating the game, sacrificing pace of play and trust in the on-ice officials based on a couple of blatant offside goals in the past.

Here’s hoping the rules committee axes this review, which only takes goals out of the game and bores anyone watching.

Remember this one?

Bernier tastes a little vengeance

Frederik Andersen was denied the start against his former team, but Randy Carlyle gave Jonathan Bernier a shot at the club that traded him away.

So, did Bernier have a little extra motivation facing Toronto?

“Definitely,” he told reporters. “You always want to prove they made the wrong decision.”

Bernier made 37 saves for his 10th win and posted a nice .949 save percentage.


The Ducks played without face-off wizard Antoine Vermette (62.4%), who served the sixth game of his 10-game suspension for slashing a linesman. Vermette announced Friday that he won’t appeal his ban…. Coming out of its bye week, Anaheim added assistant Todd Marchand to its coaching staff…. Toronto has now held a lead and surrendered it in six consecutive games…. The Ducks won the rest-versus-rust debate, becoming just the eighth team to win its first game off the bye. Eighteen teams lost after their break when playing an active club…. Kadri scored the Leafs’ 25th power-play goal on road. They’re No. 1 in the NHL in that category…. Deadline acquisition Patrick Eaves, playing on Getzlaf’s line, scored his first as a Duck. An empty-netter…. James van Riemsdyk has not scored a goal in 14 games.

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