I’ve had the chance to get a good night’s sleep on last night’s game. It was necessary. For the first time in almost a year (51 weeks to be exact) I found myself in a situation where I couldn’t just laugh off the loss and accept that things like that happen. The thing is, these things don’t happen except to the Leafs. Teams don’t lose 6-5 after having a 5-1 lead against the worst team in the NHL. Team’s don’t lose to emergency back up goaltenders, especially ones on their own payroll, and while we’re at it, other teams don’t blow 4-1 leads in a game seven. These are things that only the Leafs are capable of. While they don’t have a Stanley Cup banner, perhaps Toronto needs to start putting up banners for spectacular losses, because they are absolutely amazing.
It’s because of this tendency to fail spectacularly that I don’t think it’s possible to ever feel confidence in the Leafs. They’ve built one of the best offensive cores in the league with Matthews, Marner, Tavares, they’ve seeming addressed their defensive issues, and for the most part Freddie Andersen has looked good, especially in a season where Campbell’s injury has made it Andersen or bust. They’ve looked good, and anyone who wants to point to the division, and (at the moment) league lead in the standings has a stronger case for feeling good about this team than those of us who want to kick rocks about another incredibly stupid loss.
But here’s where the people who want to look at the standings and cite “The President’s Trophy is the truest test of merit” rhetoric are also wrong. The fact of the matter is we’ve seen this song and dance repeatedly over the past few years. The Leafs have a good regular season team, that has a few bad losses we’re told to brush off, and then they go out and demonstrate why we should have been concerned all along in the playoffs. Last night was your preemptive playoff warning. This team has worms. We’re seeing those worms in defensive collapses, in the offense shutting down, and apparently during the second intermission Freddie Andersen went out for cigarettes and never came back (although the first goal was probably a solid warning sign of what was to come.)
The thing is no matter who you wanted to blame last night, you are probably right in who you are putting the blame on. Even the Matthews line deserves a bit of criticism, as the need for scoring didn’t go away in the third. Andersen surely validated his detractors beliefs, and somehow is a 6-5 loss the defense might be the group that receives the least amount of blame, aside from some definite defensive issues with Morgan Rielly and Zach Bogosian’s worst game as a Leaf.
This being the second night in a row where a lead being taken into the third period only to swiftly go the other way is something that needs to be dealt with, and when consistency can’t exist for a sixty minute game, the confidence level that the Leafs can make it through a seven game series, not to mention multiple playoff rounds should worry Leafs fans.
The question is what do the Leafs do about this? Well, a healthy Jack Campbell getting a shot to show what he can do in net would be a good start. Someone pushing Andersen is only a good thing. There also needs to be somewhat of an acknowledgement that the Leafs aren’t a team that can get a lead and protect it. We aren’t short on anecdotal evidence that shows that the Leafs aren’t a team that takes the foot of the gas, they are a team that slams on the brakes. You either get full pressure Toronto, or you get whatever the hell that was in the third period. If there is a takeaway from last night it’s that the Leafs aren’t in a situation where they need to get tougher or that they are too small and skilled to win. They weren’t goalie’d in the third, and penalties didn’t bite them in the ass. They did this to themselves by forgetting that even a bad NHL team is good enough to exploit a complete lack of effort. If the Leafs don’t find a way of putting up a respectable effort now, they certainly can’t be counted on for an honest effort in the playoffs. Luckily they have a great record and a talented roster as a jumping off point, but instead of believing that the sky is the limit in the playoffs, I’m preparing for the Leafs getting swept by the Jets.
Yes I’m being overly dramatic about all of this, but last night really sucked and it would be great if shit like that stopped happening.