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Leafs Week 5: The Defense Rests

The Leafs literally have no defense for their performance this past week.

OCT. 30: LEAFS V. SAN JOSE SHARKS

The night started off on an emotional note as San Jose gave former Shark Patrick Marleau a heartfelt tribute as the fans welcomed him back for the first time since he left to join the Leafs. Marleau had spent his entire career in San Jose before coming to Toronto this season. It was a classy move by San Jose and you could tell Marleau was moved by the gesture.

I was hoping those tears I shed at the tribute would be the only ones that night and, for a while, things looked good for Toronto.

The Leafs opened up the scoring halfway through the first period when Auston Matthews got his ninth goal of the season following some great puck handling from William Nylander to create the scoring opportunity.

Although it was a late start — 10:30 p.m. EST — the Buds kept the Toronto-based faction of Leafs Nation awake and engaged in the early stages of the game if Twitter action was any indication. I, among others, tweeted appreciatively: “William Nylander is amazing.” And later: “Thanks for not putting me to sleep, #Leafs.” And then: “Freddie!” in appreciation of Leafs’ goalie Frederik Andersen, who keeps San Jose scoreless in the opening frame.

It was a whirlwind 20 minutes that passed in a flash. “That was a quick and exciting period,” I tweeted at 11:16. “At this rate, the game will be done before 1.”

By 11:45 in the second period, I was tweeting a different tune. “Damn!” and “Game tied 1-1” (Joe Pavelski). Mad-face emoji.

Although the Leafs had some great scoring chances, including a couple for Marleau, they couldn’t actually hit the net, garnering only two shots on goal in the entire second period. I think I was only exaggerating slightly when I tweeted: “San Jose has about 8,000.” The Leafs had Andersen to thank for keeping the Sharks at bay rather than their defensive play, which, as usual, was sorely lacking.

The Sharks scored a power play goal early in the third (Tim Heed) after Dominic Moore took a penalty for cross-checking and it was downhill for the Leafs from there. To be fair to Andersen, he was screened on that shot and hardly had a chance.

Toronto kept giving away the puck — I don’t like throwing players under the bus, but sleep deprivation makes me angry-tweet: “Oh, (Roman) Polak.” “Another giveaway!” “Why does it look like San Jose is always on the PP? Stop giving away the puck, #Leafs (Polak).”

The rest of the third period basically went like this: “Come on, #Leafs … Freddie deserves better.” “Another amazing save by Freddie.”

“CLEAR.THE.DAMN.PUCK.”

“How do I just auto-tweet: Great save by Freddie!”

Then the Leafs started playing a bit better: “JVR trying to make things happen.” “(Morgan) Rielly showing off now.” “But #Leafs just can’t score.”

At 12:57: “Now #Leafs firing all kinds of shots at the net.” “Only three minutes left in the game…”

San Jose got an empty-net goal (Joel Ward) to make it 3-1 with two minutes left in the game before the Leafs scored to come within one again. Toronto’s second goal was originally awarded to Kadri, but it was credited to Andreas Borgman the following day, giving the Swedish defenseman his first NHL goal. I had (rightfully) given the goal to Borgman the night before: “Andreas Borgman scores his first NHL goal and it’s 3-2 with 1:05 to go!”

But it was too little too late and the Sharks won it 3-2.

It was the Leafs’ third loss in a row.

NOV. 1: LEAFS V. ANAHEIM DUCKS

By Wednesday night, I was exhausted from having watched both the Leafs and Raptors play until 1 a.m. days before as both Toronto teams were on west-coast road trips, not to mention having stayed up until 2 a.m. to watch the World Series in between hockey and basketball.

Needless to say, I was not in a good mood and another Leafs’ loss would’ve sent me over the edge. Luckily, the Buds did not disappoint me this time.

Toronto started strong in the first period, scoring first when Connor Brown picked up his fourth goal off an excellent pass from James van Riemsdyk. The Leafs outshot the Ducks, but Anaheim evened the score (Ondrej Kase) and the opening frame ended in a 1-1 tie.

The Buds had a great chance in the second period when Matthews had a breakaway, but he hit the post. The Leafs had four penalties in two periods of play, but Anaheim could not score on the power play and Andersen stopped all 17 shots in the second frame, which ended the same as the first, tied at one goal apiece.

Marleau had the night he should’ve had in San Jose, scoring early in the third period to put the Leafs in the lead after showing some great hustle in front of the net. Marleau’s goal ended up being his 100th game-winning goal.

The Ducks thought they had scored with less than two minutes left to play, but it was ruled no goal after it was determined the puck was kicked into the net.

Andersen stopped 27 of 28 shots on goal by Anaheim, while Leo Komorov scored an empty-net goal to seal the 3-1 win for the Leafs.

NOV. 2: LEAFS V. LOS ANGELES KINGS

Playing back-to-back games is never easy, especially when you’re on the road and your opponent is the Los Angeles Kings AND you’re staying at the same hotel as the World Series champions, the Houston Astros, who may or may not have kept you up all night with their noisy celebrations…

Although the Leafs beat L.A. in their first meeting this season, tonight would be a different story.

The Kings took the lead early in the opening period after Toronto defenseman Jake Gardiner fell on the ice and L.A. capitalized (Michael Amadio). Maybe it wasn’t Gardiner’s fault as he wasn’t the only Leaf to slip on the so-called “terrible ice” that night, but the Buds looked even more tired than I was. “The #Leafs look sleepier than I do.”

The Kings scored again on the power play and it was 2-0 before Leafs’ backup goalie Curtis McElhinney knew what had hit him. “I think the #Leafs were AT the party…”

Toronto has always relied on its offence to bail the team out during defensive lapses, but the Buds failed in that department as well and were unable to score on two power plays. L.A. scored again seconds before the first period ended, taking a 3-0 lead.

“That was a garbage first period for the Leafs,” said one of the TV talking heads at the beginning of the first intermission and I didn’t disagree with him.

The Leafs looked a little more awake in the second period, which is more than I could say for myself, but they just could not score. And it didn’t help that they kept getting penalties. L.A. scored (Tyler Toffoli) during the second Toronto penalty kill and it was 4-0 by midnight. Less than two minutes later, the Kings scored again (Toffoli again) and it was 5-0.

I was ready to call it a night (or morning) by this time, but then Matthews got his first ever penalty shot and scored a great goal — his 10th — to make it 5-1. Just two minutes later, Matthews made an excellent pass to Rielly, who scored with 1.5 seconds remaining in the period and it was 5-2 after 40 minutes of play.

I couldn’t go to bed now.

Brown scored early the third period during a Leafs power play and the Buds were now within two goals. Incredibly, the Leafs got another penalty shot when the Kings knocked their net off its moorings and Matthews took that one as well — that alone was worth staying up for — but, unfortunately, his shot was wide this time and the Leafs ran out of time.

Again, it was too little too late for the Leafs.

NOV. 4: LEAFS V. ST. LOUIS BLUES

Fan favorite Borgman got Toronto on the board first with his second NHL goal. It was a great goal by the 22-year-old defensemen off a great pass from Matt Martin and the Leafs led St. Louis 1-0.

The Blues outshot the Leafs 10-6 in the first period, but Andersen once again kept Toronto in the game by stopping all 10 shots on goal.

But the Blues came back with a vengeance in the second period, scoring early (Vladimir Tarasenko) to tie it up. St. Louis took the lead just past the seven-minute mark (Joel Edmundson) and made it 3-1 (Alex Pietrangelo) by the halfway point. The Leaf’s defense, once again, was in shambles.

St. Louis scored again early in the third period (Magnus Paajarvi) to make it 4-1. Although Tyler Bozak made it 4-2 less than a minute later, the Blues answered back 17 seconds after that (Vladimir Sobotka), restoring their three-goal lead.

The Blues took a 6-2 lead (Pietrangelo again) just five minutes later and Leafs Nation experienced that now-familiar sinking feeling.

As they’ve done lately in the third period, the Leafs fought back, with Brown scoring halfway into the period and Bozak netting his second of the night on a power play, cutting the Blues’ lead to 6-4. Toronto outshot St. Louis 12-8 in the third period, but they couldn’t score again and suffered another brutal loss.

It’s difficult to blame Andersen for the loss because the Leafs did not give him much support. As Bozak told media after the game: “We left him out to dry there and we have to be better in front of him.”

He’s right.

But while it’s easy to blame the Leafs for their poor defensive showing — and the Buds, to their credit, have no trouble owning up to their shortcomings — coach Mike Babcock needs to shoulder a lot of the blame. It is, after all, his job to lead his mostly young charges.

Leafs Nation — which is usually effusive in its praise of Babcock when Toronto is winning — was quick to roast the coach on this night, especially after he failed to challenge what was definitely interference on Andersen, which resulted in a goal for St. Louis. It was not fair to Freddie, no matter how badly the rest of the team was playing.

The bottom line is Babcock and the Leafs need to get their act together and soon, before their still-winning record becomes a losing record.

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