Roman Polak attempts to battle Anders Lee off the puck as the two come barreling into the Leafs' Jonathan Bernier. Lee would earn two goals in the Isles 3-2 victory over the Leafs.
Windsor - February 12, 2015 - News – if you can call it that – has broke that the MLSE Board has approved Brendan Shanahan’s plan to rebuild the Toronto Maple Leafs hockey club. In a sense, yes, this is big news for Leafs Nation, mainly because it confirms what we have been thinking since the Leafs fell off the wagon in November. What is disappointing about this information is the fact that it didn’t happen sooner. A problem that has plagued the Leafs’ organization is that its most recent leaders have all “talked a big talk,” but in reality have accomplished very little in regards to establishing a genuine game plan or mission statement for the future. The last ten years have had a whirlwind of roster and management changes that have made it difficult for anyone to implement concrete plans without being completely stripped midway through the season. The League is one of action, not talk. Overall, fans are simple creatures; if they see drastic changes, they will realize what is happening to their team. By trading away Phaneuf, Kessel, or any other name off the roster, it would be abundantly clear what the brass is thinking, regardless of the “scorched-earth” headline. Hopefully Shanny’s plan sticks, and allows the Leafs to finally enter a proper rebuild, something that has been necessary for some time.
Moving on to the main event of the evening, the Leafs participated in their last game at Nassau Coliseum, as the New York Islanders will call Brooklyn’s Barclays Centre their new home next season. The last time the Leafs visited the Isles Phil Kessel led Toronto to a 5-2 victory. Unfortunately, this would not be the case for this particular visit.
Once again the Leafs’ sloppy play in the defensive zone cost them two goals early in the first period. Cody Franson earned another dunce cap for giving the puck away for the second straight game. The resulting play concluded with Bernier looking foolish for allowing the puck to squeak over the goal line, even after he made the initial save. It is safe to say that this is what to expect in the first period for the remainder of the season: Turnover. Deke. Goal against. Repeat.
Many have mentioned a lack of consistency in the Leafs’ play, but I would like to point out that they have done a fine job allowing two goals in the first period for the last 15 games. If players held some accountability for their actions on the ice, it would be easier to forgive them for their mistakes. Failing to correct the little things has made it extremely difficult to accept the Leafs’ current performance.
The second period welcomed a more engaged Toronto Maple Leafs club, as the Buds tied the game with two goals being scored within the first five minutes of the period. Richard Panik scored the Leafs’ first goal, and moments later after Winnik and Franson both made selfless efforts on the penalty kill, Trevor Smith would earn the equalizer. The quick turnaround play was successful thanks to Smith’s awareness to jump into the play after serving his two-minute minor. Panik would earn an assist on the goal, giving him two points on the night.
Renowned sportscaster Chris Cuthbert said it best during his on-air broadcast, “the Leafs are a team of multiple personalities.” This could possibly be the most relevant explanation for defining the Leafs. The constant flip in on-ice performance has tested the confidence and effectiveness of the Leafs’ club, and needless to say, the coaching staff needs to find a way to end the team’s “Jekyll and Hyde” personality.
The Leafs entered the second intermission down 3-2; however, their effective puck control in the offensive zone accompanied with their increased physical play resulted in an impressive period of play. The goal that beat Bernier to allow the Islanders possession of the lead was one that should have been stopped. Polak and Robidas were lost on the play, and the forwards failed to address the threat at the top of the zone, which allowed Josh Bailey to advance the puck to Anders Lee in the slot, whose low percentage shot found its way through Bernier’s five hole. Although the Leafs did not provide Bernier with the best relief, the play was nothing special, and it most certainly did not need to end with a goal for the opposition. With the Leafs applying pressure and gaining confidence in the offensive zone, Bernier needs to save that puck to allow his team to maintain their momentum. Due to the goal, the Leafs were forced to enter the third period facing a deficit for the second straight game.
The Leafs could not overcome the one goal deficit and the game would end 3-2 in favour of the New York Islanders. This game marked a number of negative milestones for the Leafs, including their twelfth straight loss on the road, ninth straight loss for Bernier, and an embarrassing twenty-one losses in twenty-five games. Jaroslav Halak would earn his thirtieth win of the season, the first time he has managed to achieve this feat in his career.
The Leafs continue to fall short in games where they have opportunities to win, but fail to overcome the adversity they face. In many ways the Leafs exhibited signs of dominance, as they played very well for the majority of the second period, as well as the third. But the constant mistakes made by players in situations that beckon perfection cause the positives to be overlooked by the constant pitfalls and tribulations that plague the Leafs organization.
With the news of the rebuild set to begin immediately, it is likely that a number of players will be on the move between now and September. Unless Dave Nonis receives a stellar proposal from a team, it is unlikely that we will see Kessel sporting any other jersey for the remainder of the season. It makes sense that the Leafs’ brass will wait until the offseason to move big pieces like Phil the Thrill or Captain Dion, but as for the trade deadline, it won’t be surprising to see the rentals, such as Winnik and Santorelli, be moved in exchange for draft picks. The time has come for Leafs Nation to accept our fate as being fans of a team that has finally hit the breaking point, and it is up to us to be patient and supportive during this transition, as the Leafs begin the long road to normalcy.