Last night the Toronto Maple Leafs did exactly what we've been saying they'd do all year, and they did it in the Leafiest way possible. In other words, last night was definitely not the Leafs' worst game of the season, but all the hallmarks of what has gone wrong all year were on full display.
Let us do as Brian Burke used to (I can't be the only one feeling just the slightest pangs of nostalgia for those Burke days) and go "from the net out" detailing the Leafs' performance.
James Reimer looked like the goalie that we know he can be. Sure, he got beat twice (the Lightning's third goal was an empty-netter), but he had next to no hope on one of them, and was the main reason Steven Stamkos didn't score at least five goals.
Reimer may allow the odd rebound, but the fantastic thing about him is that he almost always makes the next save anyway. If you click on the above-linked Box Score, you'll see that he finished the game with a .939 Sv%, which on a normal night is enough to give any team a chance to win, rebounds or no. As usual, rebounds weren't really an important part of the game's final narrative, anyway.
A tip of our collective hats is owed to Anders Lindback, who earned the shutout for Tampa Bay, coming in for Ben Bishop when Bishop was injured in the first period. Lindback stepped into a penalty kill for his team and was solid.
All the Leafs' defenders fulfilled our expectations of their work. Jake Gardiner looked fantastic as he lead the whole team in TOI with 23:57. He created a pile of great chances that never quite worked out, but that nevertheless added more evidence to the notion that he is going to be (and maybe already is) a top-4 defender. Dion Phaneuf and Carl Gunnarsson both had quiet games. Phaneuf certainly didn't look like a $7M defenceman, but I'll be surprised if it doesn't come out that he's nursing an injury when the dust settles on this season. Cody Franson got burned once or twice by speedy Tampa forwards and had his predictable set of lapses. Tim Gleason was Tim Gleason With Too Many Minutes in the early stages of the game but saw his TOI drop off after some missed assignments. No surprise, there.
As a unit, the defence had trouble breaking out of their own zone when Morgan Rielly or Jake Gardiner weren't skating the puck out themselves, though a lot of that can be attributed to the forwards and probably Randy Carlyle. Defensive lapses saw Stamkos get/create a rather unbelievable number of chances, except that against the Leafs, the number (whatever it is, my guess is 7) is certain to be quite believable.
When you don't get a single goal from your offence, it's fair to say they didn't have a great night, but there were some individuals whose efforts merit some praise. Phil Kessel was everywhere, firing pucks from all angles and coming close to scoring on repeated occasions. Sometimes even Phil can't get the bounces. Nazem Kadri also put forth a very solid effort, gaining controlled O-zone entries virtually every time he touched the puck. Unfortunately, he was playing on a line with Carter Ashton (in for the injured Joffrey Lupul) and the hapless David Clarkson, who at least managed to be invisible.
The Flow Of Play
Being out-shot 34-28 doesn't sound so bad, but it's definitely not great when your team trails for half the game. Moreover, the Leafs had three power plays to Tampa Bay's one, which helped even out the final shot total. If we look at Extra Skater's 5v5 score tied Corsi numbers (linked above) we can see that this was a typical Leafs outing: Tampa 61.2%, Toronto 38.8%.
To the eye, this game didn't look so lopsided, but score effects explain much of that, and haven't we heard this story before this season?
It was the same old situation. The Leafs wingers dropped way too low to cover a defenceman or escape a forechecker on a breakout, and the Leafs were hemmed in repeatedly by an opponent not known for being bruising.
The penalty kill went 0/1, and it took all of 7 seconds for a funny bounce to end up in the Leafs' net. It's not like I'd put this goal on Carlyle - it was indeed lucky, and it's not like he could have stopped the puck - but the Leafs have the third-worst penalty kill in the league, so this is but another point in a trend.
We also saw crazy line combinations (there's just no reason for Clarkson to play with Kadri anymore) and other frustrating things like Colton Orr and Jay McClement getting offensive zone starts, some of them even against Stamkos' line, since Tampa had last change.
I'll be surprised if Carlyle has his job when the playoffs start.
Wow, this is bleak.
I know, I know. It's the frustrating, disappointing, and yet totally expected ending. The Leafs leafed their way into an early season exit. The bright side is that a coaching change is likely imminent in Toronto, and hopefully this will encourage better trades or personnel decisions going forward.
In short, this is a dark, dark time for Leafs fans, but I really do believe next year can be better.