OTTAWA - Who knew Jonas Gustavsson would decide to dress up as Vesa Toskala for Halloween?
Given the likeable Toskala’s penchant for giving up the odd odorous goal during his time in blue-and-white, Gustavsson certainly played the role on Sunday night, one that eventually would cost the Leafs the latest installment in the Battle of Ontario.
When Gustavsson whiffed on Kaspars Daugavins’ floater midway through the third period, the host Ottawa Senators suddenly found themselves up by a 3-1 score, a lead they would not relinquish.
True, the Maple Leafs would turn this one into a nailbiter when Clarke MacArthur narrowed the gap to 3-2 at 9:07 of the final period. But thanks to the acrobatics of Sens goalie Robin Lehner, the visitors could never collect the equalizer.
The result was a 3-2 Ottawa Senators victory in front of a noisy throng at Scotiabank Place, snapping the Leafs winning streak at two.
Having stepped in for the injured James Reimer, who continues to face shots in practice in order to get over his suggested “whiplash” injury, Gustavsson had turned in outstanding performances in back-to-back wins over the New York Rangers and Pittsburgh Penguins.
But as he stood in front of the media minutes after the final horn had sounded at Scotiabank Place, he really couldn’t find the answer as to why such a weak shot found its way by him for the game winner.
“For some reason I lost sight of the puck when it went over (the sightline) of the boards,” Gustavsson explained. “I should have had it. It’s too bad.
NOT A SURPRISE
“It wasn’t that I was surprised. I just should have had it. It shouldn’t happen. But bad things happen sometimes.
“When I let in a goal like that, I get pissed at myself. I just try to focus on the next shot.”
The setback stripped some of the swagger from a Toronto side that had come to Ottawa feeling quite good about itself after a 7-2-1 start.
While television replays of Gustavsson’s gaff ran deep into the night, The Monster certainly should not shoulder all the blame for the loss. Indeed, it was his stellar play that kept the Leafs close at times.
Truth be told, the Leafs seemed to go into cruise control after MacArthur gave them a 1-0 lead early in the first period. It would cost them in the end.
The Senators would end up scoring the next three goals courtesy of Colin Greening, Chris Neil and Daugavins, whose charity from Gustavsson resulted in his first NHL goal.
One of the aspects that should be alarming to the Leafs was the way the defence was exploited on the Greening goal. A pass all the way back from the Ottawa corner found the Sens rookie behind Dion Phaneuf and Luke Schenn at the Toronto blueline, resulting in a breakaway goal.
Just six days earlier, Jaromir Jagr had three breakaways in a 4-2 loss to the Philadelphia Flyers. Allowing forwards to get behind them with such regularity simply is unacceptable for the Toronto defence.
Coach Ron Wilson called it the turning point of the evening, a play that allowed the Sens to tie the game 1-1 and gain much needed confidence.
“We can’t let that happen,” Schenn said. “It’s a communication thing. We have to work on that.”
MacArthur, meanwhile, has scored four times in the past three games, allowing some of the offensive weight to come off the Phil Kessel line.
“It’s not like I didn’t have chances before this,” MacArthur said. “It’s just nice to see them go in.”
Through it all, The Battle of Ontario was missing one of its most fabled warriors on Sunday night.
Senators captain Daniel Alfredsson, who has more Maple Leafs-Senators games under his belt than anyone on either team, is out indefinitely after being felled by the New York Rangers’ Wojtek Wolski on Saturday during the Sens 3-2 shootout win.
Most observers here expected Wolski to be suspended for dropping Alfredsson behind the play. They were surprised when he wasn’t.
No matter. When it came to the scoreboard, it was a sidelined Alfredsson and the Sens who had the last laugh.
The same couldn’t be said for Gustavsson and the Leafs.