Saturday, 3 January 2015

None For The Road

And so it begins again for Toronto: the calls for Randy Carlyle's head, the outrage and disbelief that the Leafs went 1-for-5 on the road, and the staring into the rear-view mirror as teams inch closer to Toronto's playoff spot. The Jets rolled into Manitoba to play the Jets tonight, and were outplayed in almost every aspect of the game in dropping a 5-1 result to the injury-ravaged Jets. Once more, it might be time to remind everyone in The Big Smoke to relax. The world isn't ending. The sun will rise tomorrow. The Leafs will undoubtedly lose again this season.

The Leafs played horribly. There's no questioning that view. Between watching Phil Kessel float for most of his shifts to seeing the Leafs' defencemen look like they were juggling grenades all night, this was not a highlight-reel performance for any of the Leafs. Five in games in seven nights would understandably have most players seemingly out of gas, but the Leafs were simply awful tonight.

Carlyle wasn't buying the fatigue notion, though. ""We know that back-to-backs are going to be challenging when the other team has been rested for days," he said to reporters. "Usually what you try to do is you try to get your structure and you play simple. You stop in the defensive zone. You don't get above the puck. You're always on the defensive side. Our group did none of that tonight."

The Jets, to their credit, looked like a team that's had three days to work out the kinks after being beaten soundly by the New York Islanders on New Year's Eve by a 5-2 score. Dustin Byfuglien was an absolute monster out there while the Jets saw TJ Galiardi notch his first in Jets' colours. The Jets controlled the play all night long, and the results on the scoreboard showed.

The Leafs - more specifically, head coach Randy Carlyle - need to forget this idea of playing James Reimer in Winnipeg. He's played five games in the Manitoba capital now, and he has a frightful 1-4-0 record with a .857 save percentage. That's also a large reason why Toronto rolls into Manitoba and leaves with a loss.

In their defence, the Leafs, like Winnipeg, are suffering through some injuries down the middle as Joffrey Lupul, Nazem Kadri, and Peter Holland are all on the shelf with injuries. The Leafs dressed Tyler Bozak and Mike Santorelli as regular centermen, but they forced Danniel Winnik, Trevor Smith, and Greg McKegg to fill in the remaining time down the middle. If two of three of those names seem a little unknown to you, you weren't the only person flipping through the program to figure out who #23 and #36 were, respectively.

However, this isn't just about one game in Winnipeg. This is the same Toronto team that led 4-2 in Florida after two periods before dropping a 6-4 decision to the Panthers. This is the same team that led 2-0 after one period before dropping a 3-2 decision in Tampa Bay. This is the same team that led 3-1 through 30 minutes in Boston before defeating the Bruins in a shootout by a 4-3 score. The fact that this team can't hold a two-goal lead in three games isn't a reflection of coaching. That's simply a brutal effort by the players on the ice.

"It's been a terrible trip for our team," Dion Phaneuf said after the loss to Winnipeg. "We did not get near the results that we wanted or that we needed."

Understatement aside, the Leafs head home for a little rest from this whirlwind road trip as they prepare for a very good Washington team on Wednesday followed by a resurgent Columbus Blue Jackets squad that is looking to make a push for the playoffs. Toronto needs points as they sit two points ahead of Boston and Florida, both of whom are in the Leafs' division.

For a team that is 3-7-0 in their last ten games and a brutal 7-8-3 on the road, grabbing points at the Air Canada Centre should be a priority right now. Pick up two wins at home, and then worry about going on the road. Right now, those four points against Washington and Columbus are all that matters.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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