Back to the Drawing Board for the Toronto Maple Leafs

William Wilson May 2, 2013 19
Boston Bruins score on Toronto Maple LeafsPhoto by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images

It wasn’t just the Toronto Maple Leafs.

The Toronto Blue Jays couldn’t beat a Boston-based sports team either on Wednesday.

In the case of the Leafs, they saw their childlike playoff euphoria and an early one-goal lead quickly evaporate to the burly Bruins after surrendering four unanswered goals. Reality came quick, hard and dressed in Boston colours. If the Leafs felt the “pressure” heading into this game, then it’s only going to get harder from here on out.

In the case of the Jays, they simply suck.

James van Riemsdyk helped the Leafs capitalize on their first power play opportunity after just two minutes of play, batting an errant shot from teammate Cody Franson into the net. In terms of starts, things at this point of the game couldn’t have gone any better for the Leafs. They had the Bruins down before the first commercial break.

The lead, however, would prove short-lived.

Left alone along the boards, Wade Redden (!) would fire a free puck on net just after the 16-minute mark of the first period. Screened by Michael Kostka, James Reimer was essentially handcuffed on the shot. He was left to watch the puck slowly bounce off his left pad and waffle into the net.

Toronto appeared to temporarily rebound after this goal, forestalling a Boston power play in the dying minutes of the first period. They even generated a good scoring chance with JVR out waiting Tuukka Rask for a clear shot on net. Unfortunately, he missed the net and Boston was able to score on the resulting 4-3 rush down the other end of the rink.

The unfortunate break for Toronto would return as a dominant theme throughout the remainder of the game. Poor line changes, giveaways and other defensive miscues led directly to Boston’s two other goals on the night.

Chased away by the roar of the Boston crowd following the game, further bad news found its way to the Leafs’ ears today. Franson bruised his foot during the game while Kostka broke a finger. Meanwhile, all-star sniper Phil Kessel was given a “maintenance day” to rest. It’s not certain if he’s been injured.

Head coach Randy Carlyle said he’s inclined to play Ryan O’Byrne and Jake Gardiner in place of the two injured defencemen on Saturday, but it’s unclear how the Leafs would replace Kessel should he end up in the infirmary as well.

Obviously, the Leafs want to iron out the kinks in their game before Saturday’s contest, but the mistakes on display Wednesday night aren’t really new. Down the stretch of the regular season, it became clear that the Leafs were allowing too many shots on net and that secondary scorers like Nazem Kadri and Mikhail Grabovski were running out of gas.

I’m not convinced the Leafs will suddenly find it within themselves to fix these problems after failing to address them during the regular season. This is a young team so the sloppy and inexperienced play might simply be part of the package.

It’s important to remember that the fact Toronto even made the playoffs represents a huge success. Few people picked the Leafs to make the playoffs let alone finish fifth in the Eastern Conference.

In comparison, the Bruins are a seasoned playoff team. The Leafs could learn a few lessons from them. An early goal is no reason to take your foot off the gas pedal while an early deficit is no reason to throw up your hands.

Win or lose the Leafs are going to earn some valuable experience from this series. Ultimately, this might be the biggest “prize” that awaits them. We’re used to saying “next year” in Toronto, but it might finally mean something.

Want to share your own thoughts on the Leafs or any other team in the NHL? Check out our new forums and be among the first to set the tone! You might even find one or two of the F4S writers on there so keep your head up!

Follow me on Twitter for regular posts about sports, politics and other news topics: @williamefwilson