That was an ugly loss. Really ugly. I don’t have to walk you through it, because you already know. In the midst of a playoff race, the Leafs came out completely flat against the Florida Panthers and got hammered 7-2. I won’t say it was a ‘must win game’ because it wasn’t, but it was an important one.
The loss put the Leafs one point behind the New York Islanders for the final wild card seed, but it also gave the Tampa Bay Lightning an opportunity to slide ahead of them. It also leaves the Leafs four points back of the Boston Bruins for third in the Atlantic Division standings with only one game in hand.
Obviously you don’t want to lose games to teams like Florida who are behind you in the standings like that, especially when you’re playing Chicago, Columbus, Washington, and Nashville in the upcoming weeks. That wasn’t just a loss, it was a brutal one, and it was one that the team badly needed to increase their playoff odds in the increasingly competitive Eastern Conference.
So that leads us to this week’s question: If you’re Mike Babcock and the Leafs coaching staff, how do you handle a loss like that? How do you respond to the effort that was put out there in such a meaningful game?
Do you bag skate the team at practice? Do you shuffle the lines? Scratch somebody and bring somebody else in? Not let the guys go fishing and have fun on the beach from here on out? Or do you just let it slide, and allow the veterans to take over? And for players to let the feeling of being embarrassed like that sink in so they understand this isn’t something they want to happen again?
It wasn’t really expected this season that the Leafs would be competing for a playoff spot. It was assumed there would be a lot of ups and downs, streaks of excellent, exciting play, and terrible lulls of frustration, which is all part of the learning process for such a young team. It’s a delicate situation, but it also offers a major learning opportunity for a team with a bright future.