The Lightning's Brett Connolly holds back Leafs' winger Carter Ashton during the third period of Monday's game. Despite the Leafs' best efforts they could not keep up with the Lightning.
Toronto - December 30, 2014 - On Monday night, the Toronto Maple Leafs played the second half of their sunshine state back to back. The Leafs fell to the Tampa Bay Lightning 3-2, in what was a lackluster game for Toronto. There’s not much to be said about the loss, as it was in typical Leaf fashion. The Leafs were outshot 41-23, and out possessed; having only 40% of the puck. One thing is for sure, and that is the fact that James Reimer is absolved by his 92.7% save percentage, as he did everything he could to keep the Leafs in this game. In the end though, Tampa completely bullied the Leafs, dominating them far more than the scoreboard, or even shot total suggests.
The first period saw the Leafs start strong but wane as the period went on. Four and a half minutes into the first period Nazem Kadri saucered a perfect pass to Mike Santorelli who put the puck top shelf on Tampa Bay netminder Ben Bishop. Just three minutes later, Joffrey Lupul buried his shot from just outside the crease. Lupul’s goal was set up a by beautiful passing play started by Phil Kessel just inside the blue line. After that the Leafs offence dried up for nearly twenty minutes. Tampa continued to produce scoring opportunities however James Reimer played solid in net, stopping all 15 shots the Lightning took in the period. The shots on net were 15-4 for Tampa at the end of the first.
The second period was all Lightning, as the shots on net tipped heavily in Tampa Bay’s favour, however James Reimer stood tall for most of the period. However, in typical Leaf fashion, they didn’t give Reimer any help, as they went without a shot on net from 9:44 of the first period, until 9:03 of the second. That’s a total of 19:29 without a shot on net. When the opponent has so many opportunities, they will eventually find the net, and the Lightning did, twice. Callahan and Filppula both netted goals for Tampa, as the game headed to it’s final intermission tied at two.
The third was more of the same for the Leafs, as they absolutely could not move the puck. Their consistently awful defensive zone play continues to be their downfall, as Steven Stamkos would tip in the eventual game winner in the third. The Leafs would do their best to mount a comeback, however untimely penalties and the aforementioned defensive zone issues were their undoing. The Leafs were simply not good enough to beat Tampa Bay in any facet of their game.
The calls for head coach Randy Carlyle’s firing will probably pick up again as the Leafs struggle. With the talent the Leafs have, they should be able to come out and play better than they have, and they simply are not. Whatever the solution may be to the team’s problems, Carlyle seems content to ride his system until the wheels fall off. He won’t break up Kessel and Bozak, he cannot motivate or educate the team on how to exit their zone, nor can they play his dump and chase style of offense. These failures, as well as his unwillingness to adapt his strategy to his team's strength’s may result in an early departure from the team.
Notes: Jake Gardiner appears to be relocating his game. He has struggled of late, and has simply not looked himself. Against Tampa Bay he appeared far more aware, and was one of Toronto’s best offensive threats as they game went on. He used his speed and skill to move the puck through the neutral zone tremendously in the third period.
James Reimer took a hit to the head with roughly two and half minutes remaining in the third period. He remained in the game for another minute until the Leafs pulled him to bring on the extra skater. Reimer has a history of head injuries, so his status in the coming days could be in question.
The Leafs need to find their game fast as they play 10 of their next 14 on the road, which includes playing LA, Anaheim, San Jose and St. Louis in 5 days. The Leafs next game comes New Year's Eve in Boston against the Bruins. Hopefully the Leafs don’t have a problem with hostile environments, as the Garden in Boston on New Years Eve will be just that.