The Rangers celebrate in front of Toronto's James Reimer. New York's adrenaline charged attack proved to be too much for the faltering Leafs, as they defeated the hometown team 5-4 Tuesday night.
Windsor - February 11, 2015 - The Toronto Maple Leafs played host to the New York Rangers Tuesday night, and it would be the first game for the Leafs since their impressive 5-1 victory over the Edmonton Oilers. The Blue and White would be in a far more difficult matchup against the high octane Rangers than that of the one against the Oilers. James Reimer was given the start, a decision that was made to possibly reward the young goaltender for his play in relief of starter Jonathan Bernier.
One thing that was proven in Tuesday night’s matchup is the fact that the Leafs are far from being over their problems.
Absolute pitiful play in the defensive zone led to two bad goals being cashed in by the Rangers early in the first period. The first tally occurred after a quick rush by New York, which resulted in a two-on-one situation in front of Reimer. The play would conclude with Dan Boyle snapping the puck behind Reimer, who was caught in a compromised position, providing Boyle with a wide-open cage. Rick Nash and Derick Brassard would both earn an assist on the goal.
The second goal of the night came courteous of Mats Zuccarello, who effortlessly scored his 9th after being fed the puck from linemate Nash. The goal was a result of an absolutely terrible blunder committed by the Leafs’ Cody Franson. A seemingly harmless attempt to advance the puck out of the Leafs’ zone had a disastrous outcome due to Franson fanning on the attempt, allowing the puck to be picked up by Nash, who then played a terrifying game of tic-tac-toe with Brassard and Zuccarello, much to Reimer’s dismay.
Turnovers have been quite destructive for the Leafs, as their opponents have capitalized on Toronto’s mishandling of the puck. By turning over the puck, the Leafs often find themselves playing from behind or down a man due to a goal or a penalty. This has caused plenty of headaches for players, coaches, and fans, as it has become almost natural for the Leafs to give up the lead heading into the first period intermission.
Nearing the end of the first, the Leafs took to the powerplay hoping to apply some pressure and score a goal of their own to cut the two goal deficit in half. The Leafs’ Morgan Rielly, who has played a larger role in the offensive zone for Toronto as of late, was present on the ice, and after receiving the puck from a faceoff won by centreman Tyler Bozak was able to beat Cam Talbot six seconds into the man advantage. The goal would come on just the 4th shot of the period for the Leafs, a total that was considerably lower than the Rangers 17 shots on goal.
The period would end with Toronto killing off a Roman Polak penalty, and entering the intermission down one goal to New York. It was an extremely busy period for James Reimer, who was coming off a stellar performance against the waning Oilers. The two goals allowed were not due to poor play by the Leafs’ goaltender; Reimer would have had to perform near impossible acts to keep either goal from happening.
The beginning of the second was rather exciting as the Leafs and Rangers exchanged goals within twenty-six seconds of play. The Rangers would beat Reimer for the third time in the matchup, with Kevin Hayes earning the rights to the goal after deflecting a pass from Marc Staal behind Reimer. Stephane Robidas would close the gap for the Leafs, as he would fire the puck to the back of the net from the top of the slot. This would be Robidas’ first goal in a Toronto uniform.
It would get worse before it got better for Toronto as former Leaf Dominic Moore managed to score his 5th of the season while serving time on the Rangers penalty kill unit. The goal was a surprise to everyone in the building due to the fact that it was a fluke that the puck managed to get by Reimer. Moore picked up the puck along the boards in the Toronto zone and it seemed as though he shot it on net with the intention of merely killing more time off Toronto’s man advantage. Rielly and Franson were both in good position on the play, which could explain why Moore declined to attack the slot and instead chose to advance the puck further into the Leafs’ zone.
Opening the third period, Rielly would make his way into the offensive zone and would score his second goal of the evening. The goal would make it 4-3 in favour of the Rangers, but it would allow the Leafs to focus on scoring the equalizer with plenty of time remaining in the game. The tally would mark Rielly’s third goal in two games.
It was no surprise that Daniel Winnik and Mike Santorelli would be involved on the score sheet, as that line has been the most aggressive and hard working line for the Leafs in recent games. Midway through the third, Winnik would lead a rush towards the New York crease, and would be rewarded with a goal after deflecting the puck off of defenseman Ryan McDonagh. Santorelli and Franson were both present on the rush that resulted in the Leafs’ tying goal.
Zuccarello would score the go-ahead goal with 5:56 remaining in the third. Rick Nash earned his third assist of the night, with Moore gaining a plus for being on the ice as well. The Leafs found themselves in a position that has become synonymous with Toronto Maple Leafs’ hockey. Down a goal late in the third, the Buds would need to increase their intensity to have any chance at scoring an equalizer.
For the second time in four games, the Leafs were denied a game-tying goal by the iron. Two posts, one in Nashville and one in Toronto, have prohibited the Leafs the opportunity to tie their opponents on separate occasions. Last night against the Rangers was a particularly difficult pill to swallow, as the Leafs were unable to win back-to-back games, something they have not achieved in two months. The 5-4 loss reiterates the plethora of issues plaguing the Leafs as they near the final stanza of the 2014/2015 NHL regular season.
Bad things happen when forwards fail to help on defense. This has been proven by the lack of tenacity (yes Mr. Burke I said it) the Leafs’ top line has shown over the past few months. Last night against the Rangers was unfortunately no different, as Toronto gave up another shorthanded goal, and much of the blame can be attributed to the poor effort put forward by Phil Kessel, Tyler Bozak, and James Van Riemsdyk. Their lackadaisical approach to battling in the neutral zone, as well as their failure to be in the right position has caused the Leafs to be put into compromising situations, which often result in negative happenings for the Buds. The big names of the club appear to care less and less about the outcomes of games, and have focused on what is next for their careers as the trade deadline date approaches. As it has been stated by Leafs’ brass, the idea of anyone being “untouchable” does not apply to the situation in Toronto. It will be interesting to see what happens in the coming weeks as March 2nd creeps closer.