Letdown in the Leafs nets

Tomas Fleischmann of the Panthers lets fly with a shot against Leafs defenceman Keith Aulie last...

Tomas Fleischmann of the Panthers lets fly with a shot against Leafs defenceman Keith Aulie last night in South Florida. The Leafs received brutal netminding in a 5-3 loss to the Cats. (Getty Images)

Mike Zeisberger, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 11:31 PM ET

No, Ron Wilson does not play goal.

Nor does he kill penalties.

Yet, for much of his three-plus season tenure behind the Maple Leafs bench, leaky goaltending and poor penalty killing have been the Achilles heels of Wilson’s Maple Leafs.

To be fair, the goaltending seemed to be shored up with the arrival of young James Reimer, who will celebrate the one-year anniversary of his first NHL start on Sunday.

But on Tuesday, just two days after Wilson announced his contract extension on Twitter, the veteran coach was plagued by the same old bugaboos.

Indeed, on a night when Leafs goalies were beaten four times on the first eight shots they faced, Toronto could never claw its way back from a 4-1 deficit en route to a 5-3 loss to the Panthers at the BankAtlantic Center. The victory allowed the Panthers to move five points up on the Leafs in the Eastern Conference standings.

In the end, it was one of Reimer’s poorest performances as a Maple Leaf. Wobbly from the moment the opening puck was dropped, the netminder was lit up for three goals on seven shots before being replaced by backup Jonas Gustavsson.

Leafs penalty-killers, meanwhile, allowed another two goals. For a unit that started the day 30th overall in the NHL, it certainly played down to form.

The Leafs entered the Christmas break on a 2-0-1 run, compiling back-to-back victories over the Buffalo Sabres and the New York Islanders after dropping a shootout decision to the Los Angeles Kings.

Having collected five of a possible six points prior to their two-day holiday, the Leafs came down to South Florida to meet a Panthers team that was ripe for the picking.

This was a Florida team that was ravaged by injuries, part of the reason they were humiliated 8-0 by the defending champion Boston Bruins in their previous outing.

With key cogs such as Stephen Weiss, Mikael Samuelsson and defenceman Keaton Ellerby among the seven regulars out of the Panthers lineup, the Leafs had an outstanding opportunity to close the gap on Florida with a victory.

Of course, the Leafs were missing a significant piece of their puzzle as well in the form of puck-moving defenceman John-Michael Liles, who has been placed on IR with concussion-like symptoms. The Leafs did call up Korbinian Holzer from the Marlies to augment their blue line for their three-game trip, which also includes visits to Carolina on Thursday and Winnipeg on Sunday.

Admittedly, the Leafs probably deserved a better fate in the opening 20 minutes, a period in which the Panthers scored the only goal despite being outshot by the visitors 11-4. Former Kingston Frontenac Erik Gudbranson scored for Florida, his second of the season.

The outlook seemed much brighter when Grabovski beat Jose Theodore at 2:11 of the second period to tie the game 1-1. At least that’s what the huge throng of Maple Leafs fans among the sellout crowd of 20,406 probably thought at the time.

Not so fast.

Just 19 seconds later, Bill Thomas gave Florida a 2-1 lead when he lost control of the puck on a breakaway. Somehow it still beat Reimer, who really looked out of sorts.

After Jason Garrison upped the lead to 3-1, Reimer, having been beaten three times on seven shots, was hooked in favour of Gustavsson. The Monster responded by being beaten by ex-Leaf Kris Versteeg on the first shot he faced.

Down 4-1, the Leafs responded with goals by Dion Phaneuf and Grabovski to narrow the gap to 4-3. But when a stoppable Tomas Fleischmann shot beat Gustavsson midway through the third, the Leafs comeback effort was scuttled.

 


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