The Maple Leafs knew there would be frustration coming into this rebuilding season and they knew there would be tough losses and bumps on the road. But two straight overtime losses is something else. Both had the potential to be heartwarming comeback stories with the tying goals scored in the final moments of the game. For one, it was a comeback story that fell on its face and for the other, it was a victory that helped seal Washington Capitals captain and Russian Machine Alex Ovechkin’s place among the all-time greats. Fate is really cruel that way.
Detroit Red Wings 2, Toronto Maple Leafs 1 (OT)
The last time the Leafs met with Babcock’s former team, the Leafs fell 4-0 at the Joe Louis Arena with a downright embarrassing effort against the Red Wings after the home team honored their former coach. It wasn’t exactly the homecoming that head coach Mike Babcock wanted after ten years at the helm of the Red Wings. The Leafs had to bring forth the effort and improvement they’ve been working on since their last meeting with the Red Wings in order to bring honor to their house.
As they have so many times this season, the Leafs allowed a slow start. Detroit opened up the scoring with Henrik Zetterberg netting his 300th career goal as the Leafs’ starting goaltender James Reimer scrambled to get the puck clear from his net. Because of course he did. From that point on, the Leafs set their lasers to fire and outshot the Detroit Red Wings for the rest of the game trying to get the tie. Nazem Kadri, still playing some of his best hockey at the start of this year, drew three separate penalties from three separate players to keep the Leafs’ power play alive. Even with Kadri’s help, the Leafs were unable to capitalize on any of their power plays.
The puck possession was miles better than it had been in the previous seasons but even through all of this, the puck just was not finding the back of the net. Call it lack of finishing power or just plain voodoo but it just wasn’t happening for the Leafs and it was largely in part to Detroit Red Wings goaltender Petr Mrazek Digi-volving into a brick wall against the Maple Leafs’ onslaught. This lasted until the final minute of the game where captain Dion Phaneuf scored his first goal of the season on an extremely lucky bounce to keep the Leafs alive, gain a “pity point”, and sent the contest into extra time.
Unfortunately, that’s where the improvement ended, especially defensively. Two minutes into overtime, Jakub Kindl sniped a goal past Reimer as James van Reimsdyk watched from the background, pulling up to get himself a good view of the action and leaving the wide-open field for the Red Wings to frolic their way to a victory. This is…not the way the Leafs wanted to go down, especially after Phaneuf’s heroic effort to keep the team alive.
Washington Capitals 3, Toronto Maple Leafs 2 (SO)
How bad could it be, the Leafs fan asks as the team travels to Washington to face Alex Ovechkin and the Capitals, the former looking to break the goals-by-a-Russian-player record.
Well, you see. All it takes is .8 seconds.
The Leafs took a fast start for the first time since the Dallas victory to see Daniel Winnik bury the first goal of the night to take a 1-0 lead. Moments later, Winnik fell to the ice at an awkward angle trying to catch up to Justin Williams and was taken to the dressing room with a probably injury to his left leg. No timetable is available for him but it seems to be a little more serious than anyone wants to hear, especially considering how well Winnik had been playing with line mates Joffrey Lupul and Nick Spaling. The Leafs got to exit the first period with a 1-0 lead and barely behind the Capitals in terms of shots.
The second period scoring was opened by none other than Alexander Ovechkin on a power play goal thanks in part to a Nazem Kadri penalty for interference with Justin Williams. The goal allowed Ovechkin to tie Sergei Fedorov with the most goals attained by a Russian-born player in the NHL, another milestone goal against the Leafs. Because of course.
Nazem Kadri remains scoreless but he drew two penalties and took seven shots in the game against Washington, his hand-drawn penalty art included a double-minor for roughing for Tom Wilson that was capitalized by James van Reimsdyk to allow the Leafs to grab a 2-1 lead. This lead would be sustained even through a disallowed Ovechkin goal with 2:39 left in the second. Leafs head coach Mike Babcock challenged that the goal should be disallowed due to goaltender James Reimer being interfered with by Justin Williams. The phone call retracted the goal keeping the Leafs with a 2-1 lead headed into the final three minutes of the game which gave many a Leafs fan a brief glimmer of hope. This lead would stay with the team until the timer hit 0.8 seconds when Niklas Backstrom fired a shot home to tie up the game in a truly heroic fashion that left both Capitals fans and Leafs fans with their mouths agape (although for vastly different reasons).
A scoreless 3-on-3 overtime saw the game decided on a skills competition which allowed Alexander Ovechkin to hit the final nail in the coffin of the Leafs’ parade to get the only shootout goal to win the game.
I’m not really sure what else there is to say about the team’s performance that hasn’t already been said. The Leafs are easier to watch and are certainly playing better than last year, especially with puck possession and offensive chances, but their win-loss record does not reflect that as the Leafs sit 29th in the league standings. They are only above the struggling Columbus Blue Jackets. Why, if the Leafs are playing so much better, can they not scrape together a few more lucky bounces, lucky goals, or even just a couple more wins.
If anyone out there figures it out, you let us know.
…and if any of the Fates are reading this, please let Nazem Kadri score.
Defensive responsibility. We love our defensemen, we do. But sometimes they forget that there’s a job to do and that job is ultimately to be a first barrier and protect the goaltender. Too many times there’s a wide-open field in front of their goaltender and sometimes the defensemen just stare. With Jonathan Bernier still day-to-day, James Reimer and newcomer Antoine Bibeu might need a helping hand from time to time.
For the love of god please let Nazem Kadri score. Nazem Kadri is lighting up goaltenders like a Christmas tree all year with no reward. He’s been effective in front of the net despite only one of his 60 (!!!) shots going in. He is 6th in the NHL for shots on goal, behind the likes of Tyler Seguin, Alex Ovechkin, and Taylor Hall and is above current point-leader Patrick Kane. The difference between him and the other members of the merry shooting squad is that he is the only one of the top 10 with less than three goals. Sooner or later, he’s going to break this scoring slump and that first goal will be the first step to boosting his confidence. He’s already put in the work, it’s time to see him start reaping some of the benefits.
Finish your shots. The Leafs have to bring a finishing offensive firepower that has mostly been lacking this season, especially against Seguin and Benn and their merry men. Only six of Toronto’s players have scored more than once this season; Leo Komarov, James van Reimsdyk, and Joffrey Lupul with 5, Morgan Reilly with 3, and rounding off with Daniel Winnik and Pierre-Alexandre Parenteau with 2. More goalscorers are going to have to start lighting the lamp if Toronto wants to start collecting some wins. It can’t fall just on a few guys.
Keep moving forward. The Leafs have made progress in the past month and although the results haven’t encourage any kind of confidence, it’s all about patience this season. They’ll have to endure some mental toughness to continue this season and this is a good place to start. Next up is the goal-happy Dallas Stars who will no doubt be looking for retribution for their humiliating loss last week at the hands of James Reimer and his Merry Maple Men. Gulp.
The Toronto Maple Leafs (2-8-4) travel to the American Airlines Center in Dallas to face the Dallas Stars (12-3-0). The game starts at 8:30 EST/7:30 CST.