By Pat Cancilla
The Leafs lost two games in a row this past week. Cancel the parade.
I’m kidding, of course. But the Leafs have to play better defensively if they want to keep their winning record.
OCT. 23: LEAFS V. LOS ANGELES KINGS
The Buds started the week off well, breaking the L.A. Kings’ four-game winning streak on Monday.
Martin also opened up the scoring in the first period when he deflected a shot from Roman Polak, who played his first game with the Leafs after signing a one-year, $1.1-million contract the day before. But the goal was orchestrated by Mitch Marner, who has played some of his best hockey since being moved to the fourth line. The Kings challenged the goal, claiming there was goalie interference, but there clearly wasn’t and the goal stood. Martin looked like he was ready to fight anyone who said otherwise.
Polak seemed to forget that slashing to the hand is a penalty now and went to the box shortly after assisting on the goal, but L.A. was unable to capitalize as Leafs’ goalie Frederik Andersen was great in front of the net.
L.A. got a slashing penalty next, but the Leafs couldn’t put the puck past Jonathan Quick on the power play. But they did accidentally hit the Kings’ goalie in the head, who refused at first to leave the ice for concussion protocol. He left for about two seconds, came back on to the ice and then went back to the bench where the trainer checked him out for about 30 seconds.
The Kings, in fact, spent more time reviewing Leafs goals than they did reviewing Quick for a possible concussion. It was a bit of a farce in my opinion. The first period ended with Toronto leading 1-0.
Martin opened up the fighting in the second period, getting into his second scrap of the night. All the Leafs played a very physical game, including Andreas Borgman, who made some key hits. It was a nice change from the snoozer two nights earlier in Ottawa.
The Leafs scored again when Tyler Bozak made it 2-0 on a power play goal, but L.A. retaliated less than a minute later (Adrian Kempe) to make it a one-goal game once again. The Kings kept coming at the Leafs, but Andersen kept them from scoring any more in the frame and the second period ended with the Buds leading 2-1.
Marner thought he had scored in the third and so did the sold-out crowd at the Air Canada Centre, but it was deemed no goal after the officials claimed there was goalie interference. They got that wrong in my opinion. Patrick Marleau scored minutes later and that goal was challenged, too, but this time it went the Leafs’ way and Toronto led 3-1.
Bozak and James van Riemsdyk have taken a lot of heat lately for not pulling their weight, but tonight the two veterans worked their butts off. Bozie was rewarded with a goal and JVR was injured after falling in an awkward position against the boards. He crawled off the ice in pain but returned for his next shift. That shut up the haters for a minute.
Andersen continued to make some key stops for the Leafs, including a great splits save, until the Kings scored a shorthanded goal to make it 3-2 (Trevor Lewis). It actually was a bad break for the Leafs who, up until that point, had been playing pretty well defensively. The Leafs continued to hold off the Kings in a real nail-biter toward the end of the game, culminating in a great win for the Buds.
OCT. 26: LEAFS V. CAROLINA HURRICANES
After coming off a hard-fought victory against the league-leading L.A. Kings, Leafs Nation expected Toronto to have an easy time against the lower-ranked Carolina Hurricanes. Unfortunately, so did the Leafs. They should know better than to underestimate their opponents, having been underestimated all last season. But now the rest of the NHL is on to them and everyone knows the Leafs are a top-tier team and play them accordingly, which is just what Carolina did.
A lot of credit goes to the Hurricanes, who pounced on the Leafs early and often, taking a 2-0 lead before the Buds knew what hit them three minutes into the game (Josh Jooris, Teuvo Teravainen). Leafs Nation breathed a little easier when Auston Matthews got one back for the Buds near the halfway point of the first period and the Leafs looked to make a comeback, firing 15 shots at Carolina goalie Scott Darling. When Andersen made an incredible glove save while sprawled out in front of the net, the ACC erupted into chants of “Go Leafs Go!” But the Buds couldn’t muster any more goals and their defense let Freddie down as the Hurricanes scored again to end the period leading 3-1.
The Leafs were back within one after Moore scored early in the second period and Martin’s assist gave him his 100th point of his career. Zach Hyman tied it up a minute and a half later and the Leafs looked like they still had some life. But their offensive effort couldn’t make up for their defensive shortcomings and Carolina took the lead back (Victor Rask) before the end of the second period.
The Hurricanes scored two more (Brock McGinn, Jooris) in the third and the Leafs were unable to come back. It was the Leaf’s third loss of the season by a score of 6-3.
As Matthews said in the media scrum following the game: “We weren’t very good defensively. When we start like that, it’s going to be tough to win games.”
OCT. 28: LEAFS V. PHILADELPHIA FLYERS
After a lackluster performance against Carolina, the Leafs were expected to put up a better effort against Philadelphia.
With Martin and van Riemsdyk out with injuries, the Leafs called up Josh Leivo and Kasperi Kapanen from the Toronto Marlies, their AHL affiliate, so there was some hope that the “fresh blood” would help shake things up for the Buds. But although the two played well, it wasn’t enough to lead the Leafs past the Flyers.
It was a promising start for Toronto, defensively speaking, when the game was still scoreless almost halfway into the first period. When the Buds got on the board first — Nazem Kadri off a gorgeous pass from Matthews at 9:07 — Leafs Nation could almost smell a victory. After all, losing consecutive games was unheard of for the Leafs so far this season.
Philadelphia went up 3-1 after a power play goal (Valtteri Filppula) at the halfway point of the second period and it was deja vu all over again for Leafs Nation. Two minutes later, Kadri scored his second of the night to put the Leafs within one, but the Flyers scored again (Claude Giroux) two minutes after that to restore their two-goal lead.
Although the Leafs had several scoring chances in the third period, they couldn’t capitalize and they fell to the Flyers 4-2.
Like in the game against Carolina, there were some questionable calls by the officials — including a terrible icing call — and some non-calls against the Flyers — reminiscent of the Broad Street Bullies of old — who got away with several hacks, trips and slashes. The Leafs also had some bad luck and hit a few posts, so this loss wasn’t all down to poor performance.
That’s not to absolve the Buds of any blame, but as coach Mike Babcock put it after the game: The Leafs were not as good as they thought they were (when they were winning) and they’re not as bad as they think they are (now).