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Photo Credit: © Douglas DeFelice-USA TODAY Sports

News and Notes: The aftermath of one of the worst losses of the Leafs’ season

Having a bad time in Florida has become a trend for the Maple Leafs. But last night, the struggle in paradise reached a new level.

Though the Panthers haven’t exactly been a strong opponent in, well, forever, the trip to Florida always seems to be a daunting one for the Leafs. Their last win in Florida came all the way back on Dec. 28, 2016, when they edged the Panthers out 3-2 in the shootout. Since then, it’s been a disaster. They kicked this skid off with the infamous 7-2 loss in March of 2017, they lost both of their trips to Florida in 2017-18 and 2018-19, and extended the Sunrise losing streak to six games with last night’s lopsided loss.

The Leafs got pounded by the Florida Panthers by a score of 8-4 on Sunday night. The loss extended their losing skid to three games and it now has them just one point up on the Panthers for the third seed in the Atlantic Division. The eight goals were the most the team had allowed in a game, with the next-worst result being a 7-3 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning back in October.

Frederik Andersen got the start for the Leafs and only lasted until one minute into the second period. The Panthers scored three goals in the first period and then another one early on the in the second, resulting in Andersen getting yanked for the second time in three games. Michael Hutchinson came into the game in relief and allowed four goals on 17 shots. All told, Toronto’s two goalies allowed eight goals while making just 21 saves.

While the goaltending left a lot to be desired last night, it certainly isn’t the only reason the team lost. The Leafs put forward an incredibly lethargic effort, and, just like in their other two losses to Winnipeg and Edmonton, their opponents who are pushing hard for playoff spots simply looked more engaged than they did. This is one of those instances in which looking at the underlying numbers paints an inaccurate picture. The Leafs hammered Florida in terms of shot attempts, but they weren’t the better team.

That heat map indicates that Toronto was the better team, generating a wealth of chances while also stopping Florida from generating many quality chances of their own. While these maps are helpful to show things we might miss while watching a game on TV, it leaves some important things out. For example, it won’t show up how the Leafs were allowing the Panthers to get multiple odd-man breaks against them and it won’t show how Florida was allowed to rip the puck around Toronto’s zone with ease as the team looked completely lost on D-zone coverage.

The Panthers’ game plan is to come flying out of the gate quickly, get a lead, and lock things down from there. Coming into last night’s game, Florida owned an 18-2-2 record when scoring first. They went up 2-0 in the first few minutes of the game and their plan worked perfectly. The Leafs gave them plenty of opportunities with lacklustre defensive zone play and Florida capitalized, grabbing an early lead and cruising to an easy win.

The Leafs need to tighten things up defensively. While they’re oriented to a run-and-gun style of play, they can’t outscore their problems every night. The roster might not be built to play a shutdown style of play at all, but the coaching staff needs to find a way to improve the play in the defensive zone. It wasn’t good under Mike Babcock, and while a lot of things have gotten better since Keefe took over, defensive play isn’t one of them.

As much fun as it is to point and laugh at Cody Ceci and Martin Marincin for being underwhelming, those two weren’t the problem last night. Marincin was on the ice for one even-strength goal against and Cody Ceci had a clean slate. It was Morgan Rielly and Tyson Barrie who were on for three and four even-strength goals respectively.

After the game, head coach Sheldon Keefe pointed out that this is a firm reminder for the team of how they shouldn’t be playing.

“You take it as what it is, which is a good slap in the face and a good reminder of how we can’t play if we have any intention at all of being a successful team. A big step backwards for us here today. Clearly we just weren’t even close.” Keefe said 

John Tavares echoed his coach’s sentiment, pointing out that Toronto’s play last night wasn’t a recipe for success.

“Teams obviously see the way we play and are going to look to counter and quick-strike us like they have,” Tavares said. “As much as we’re going to have [the puck] a lot and we’re going to be dynamic, we’ve got to realize, especially against a team like this that has some players that can really hurt you and are really talented, just giving up odd-man rushes is not a recipe for success.”

Mitch Marner put it perfectly: “We’ve got to wake up here.”