It seems like it’s the same script every night – the team in front plays average, while the goaltender bails out his teammates. Toronto continues to anchor down a playoff spot on the spectacular performances of Jonathan Bernier and James Reimer. When the goalies are hot, this team appears as if destined for a high playoff seed. When their goalies are average, the Leafs play like a bubble team.
Breakdown vs. Penguins
The loss earlier in the week to the Penguins was hard to swallow – a 4-1 lead that turned into a 6-5 shootout lose. Shootouts are never fun to lose, but it’s extremely tough to swallow a loss after Pens starter Marc-Andre Fleury was pulled. The Leafs seemed to have a complete control of the game before the momentum just vanished. The Leafs can at least take solace in knowing they got a point against one of the playoff locks in the East.The Pens do have a deadly offence, and Toronto learned what happens when you take the gas off the pedal against them.
The Buffalo Stinker
But what about Friday’s game against Buffalo? It was a game where James Reimer was average – not horrible like some critics would lead you to believe, but it certainly wasn’t anywhere close to the ridiculous numbers he had been putting up so far this season. Against a Sabres team that was systematically losing every match, Toronto was still outshot 29-24. Ryan Miller certainly kept his team in this game, but this is one of those that should be a must-win for a team trying to make the playoffs.
The Leafs only get to play against the Sabres so many times a year, and honestly, they should be getting the points against a lesser team. It’s one bad night – no need to crucify anyone – but the Leafs’ losing ways against teams that are much worse is troubling. The 6-0 stinker against Columbus jumps to mind..
One positive to take away from the game was the amazing performance by Mark Fraser. The stay-at-home defenseman lost some games early in the season, but seems to have shaken off all the rust. He had a ridiculous 8 blocks along with over 4 minutes of PK time. It’s good to see Fraser rounding back into form, limiting the opposition’s scoring chance. If not for Fraser and his work on the PK, that shots differential would have looked a lot, lot worse.
It doesn’t help that the Leafs were stuck for so long on the PK, which caused Fraser to have over 20 minutes of ice time while Cody Franson got less than 16. The Leafs have several grinders, so it’s not surprising to take a few penalties once in a while. They do need to make sure to limit those penalties, or at least draw enough penalties as a result of physical play.
A Familiar Foe
The Leafs get a chance to rebound this Saturday against the Montreal Canadiens, who are currently tied with Toronto in the Atlantic Division standings. However, the Habs are surging lately, with a 6-2-2 record in the last 10, while Toronto is 3-4-3 in the last 10. Tonight is a perfect opportunity for the Buds to get back on the winning track against a hated rival.