Reimer's magic runs out

James Reimer lets in a  first-period power-play goal to the Coyotes' Radim Vrbata last night (AFP...

James Reimer lets in a first-period power-play goal to the Coyotes' Radim Vrbata last night (AFP PHOTO)

LANCE HORNBY, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 9:42 AM ET

PHOENIX — The fluid Maple Leafs road show hit a dry spell in the desert.

After three wins on a trip that began in Georgia, crossed through back-to-back wins in California and headed home Thursday through Arizona, the Leafs came up short on offence in a 5-1 loss to the Coyotes, who had two power-play goals. But the Leafs can stand a little taller at home against Calgary on Saturday after winning four straight overall and finding some elusive team chemistry.

The Leafs, who had given up the first goal in every other road game and still won, only trailed by one entering the third period. But the hangover from a Mike Brown shoulder to Ed Jovanovski’s lowered head stirred the pot on the Phoenix bench. Shane Doan’s power-play goal, the second against Toronto after six spotless games made the hole too deep. Veteran Ilya Bryzgalov outplayed Toronto’s rookie sensation James Reimer, who gave up three goals on five shots as the third period unfolded. With 3:52 to play, Colby Armstrong spoiled the shutout.

Toronto was trying to win four games on the same trip for the first time since the Paul Maurice days in 2007 and five straight in the road since ’08.

The night began on a sour note for the Leafs, who had to make Kris Versteeg a late scratch because of a suspected upper-body injury. Brett Lebda, a team worst minus 18, took his roster spot and played on a revamped fourth line with Tim Brent and Colton Orr.

Reimer was trying to be the first Leafs rookie goalie to win four straight road games, breaking a tie with Mike Palmateer, Peter Ing and Damien Rhodes. Reimer was beaten on a 4-on-3 power play, though it wasn’t a busy night after 30 and 40-saves nights.

A dull game perked up noticeably late in the second period after Brown put a shoulder into the head of Phoenix defenceman Ed Jovanovski, who tried to pick a fight after he stopped seeing the stars. The angry Coyotes, who wanted the head-shot rule invoked, tried to hit every Leaf that moved after that, leading to a scrum and a double minor to Clarke MacArthur.

Lauri Korpokoski fired a pair of even-strength goals as the Leafs’ sag continued in the third.

No story from here would be complete without mentioning the sparse crowd of 11,205 and the latest white knight to take the team off the NHL’s hands and keep it in town. A consortium headed by Chicago investor Matt Hulsizer is supposed to sign off on the deal in two or three weeks, but local skeptics will believe it when they see it.

One thing was for certain, the Leafs didn’t have any big U.S. bills dangling from their dressing room whiteboard before the game. The NHL spoiled the moment for coach Ron Wilson after his 600th coaching win on Thursday morning when it levied an undisclosed fine on Toronto for the $600 Wilson put up as incentive for is players to win the milestone game against San Jose.

Wilson’s gesture is a time-honoured tactic in pro sports in games that have meaning to a coach or player. But because it became such a big part of the post-game story, the No Humour League turned to its Collective Bargaining Agreement.

“It was a violation of league rules,” NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly e-mailed the Toronto Sun. “The club will be fined in accordance.”

Essentially, there can be no sideline exchange of money between the club and the players. That regulation was meant to catch bigger fish than Wilson, but all it ultimately did was spoil a feel-good story about him becoming the seventh coach to reach 600.

“No comment, period,” Wilson said Thursday morning.

General manager Brian Burke said the Leafs would pay the fine and move on. But the decision perplexed the Leafs and Coyotes.

“I understand why the league would frown upon management doing that,” goaltender Jean-Sebastien Giguere said with some reluctance. “Some teams might do it more than others. It might affect decisions on where guys want to go (as free agents). It’s the rule and you have to abide by the rules.”

lance.hornby@sunmedia.ca

Twitter.com/sunhornby


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