May. 28, 2017
Shaky start down South as Panthers pummel Leafs 7-2
The Maple Leafs had ample rest after a 3-2 overtime win against the Hurricanes this past Saturday. A trip down south to avoid the blistering cold back in Toronto arrived at a good time for the team. The Leafs were carrying a steady three game winning streak heading into Florida.
For Leaf fans behind their television screens?
Well, they were most likely biting their nails and shaking their heads in their living rooms after witnessing an abysmal performance at BB&T Centre. Perhaps too much fishing on the water in the hot sun impeded the players? The Leafs looked flat, lethargic and were clearly outworked last night against the Florida Panthers in a crushing loss.
It got ugly early.
The Panthers scored 18 seconds into the first frame en route to a decisive win on home ice. It stings even more for the developing Maple Leafs. Back up goalie James Reimer, filling the void for Roberto Luongo's absence, stood between the pipes against his former club making 28 saves. Aaron Ekblad, Florida’s top D-man, was inactive (concussion) and the Panthers were coming into last night unsuccessful in 8 of their previous 9 contests. Ouch.
There were really no positive takeaways from last night for the Leafs. The only consolation, and I'm really digging deep here, leans toward William Nylander who extended his point total on the power play (22) with his assist on Leo Komarov's eleventh goal of the season. Nikita Soshnikov, the speedy fourth line winger, sparked a little hope towards the end of the second period but to no avail. The goal went under review. While it was deemed a good goal it appeared to diminish the Leafs momentum. Simply put, Babcock's main line of troops did not perform or show up in the most pivotal point in the season.
Auston Matthews is due. He's now gone six straight games without registering a point while still leads the team with 55.
Expect a very different Maple Leaf club come Thursday against a Tampa Bay team, who still remains in contention, and has been battling injuries all season long. Brian Boyle will face off against his former club since the trade that saw AHLer Byron Froese head to Tampa Bay.
The Bolts and Islanders are neck and neck for that coveted 2nd wild card spot at 77 points. The Leafs bump down to 10th in the eastern conference on the outside looking in.
One thing is certain. Thursday against Tampa Bay is a must win for Toronto. After St. Patrick's Day, the Leafs have a pretty rigorous schedule including tilts against Chicago, Boston, Columbus (twice), Nashville, Pittsburgh, Tampa (again) and, oh boy, the Capitals.
The final stretch of the regular season will be a true test of the Leafs discipline in order to slip into a playoff spot.