Leafs falling fast, go down to Sharks
LANCE HORNBY, QMI Agency
TORONTO - Teams are moving in front of them, behind them, with trades landing on either side.
Yet the Maple Leafs aren’t going anywhere, certainly not to the playoffs, with their various shortcomings adding up to one-goal losses. Though James Reimer’s goaltending wasn’t the controversial weak spot on Thursday against the San Jose Sharks, the 2-1 defeat did nothing to roll the presses on post-season tickets.
As speculation swirled on what changes the Leafs have in mind for the deadline, the Los Angeles Kings took Jeff Carter off the market in a trade with Columbus that will see defenceman Jack Johnson and a conditional first-rounder go to Columbus.
Reimer, responding to general manager Brian Burke’s window shopping for a new netminder, allowed one even-strength goal on 23 shots.
“A win would have helped more for sure,” Reimer wryly observed. “We threw everything but the kitchen sink at Antti Niemi (adding up to 16 total shots in the third period). We had one go through his five-hole and just missed. We deserved to score a goal or two. We should hold our heads up high in here.”
But they won’t be able to see eighth place in the East, which slipped from their grasp. They were bumped from a playoff spot for the first time since Jan. 31 when Winnipeg beat Tampa Bay and are getting into must-win mode with Washington and Florida coming in the next few days, both in hailing distance.
“There’s no sense in putting any more pressure on us,” Reimer retorted. “They’re obviously important games, but then why wasn’t a game in October important? I don’t think there’s any sense putting a must-win criteria on it. We play a game like tonight on Saturday and we’ll probably win.”
But coach Ron Wilson wasn’t mincing words after the Leafs missed a chance to add to San Jose’s road woes and allowed the Sharks’ first win in five games. Washington is in far worse shape and might not have Alex Ovechkin in the lineup.
“Hey, we need to win those games,” Wilson said. “We have to understand as a group that we have to give whatever we have left in the tank.”
By the time rookie Jake Gardiner put the Leafs on the board in the third period, San Jose was in lockdown on two Patrick Marleau goals. The Leafs’ untimely slump was extended to 1-6-1.
“You’ve got to wonder where everyone was in the second period,” Wilson said when the Sharks took the lead. “We didn’t get any offence. Why we didn’t play that way like we did in the first period and the third, I don’t know.”
Though the Sharks led the Pacific Division coming in, they might have been rattled by an early Leafs goal. But Toronto has just 11 in the past seven losses, despite another spirited effort in the third that followed an overtime defeat Tuesday to New Jersey. The Leafs have now lost 16 one-goal decisions in 2011-12.
Reimer had made it through an easy seven-shot first period, but Toronto fared even worse with just five against Niemi.
The game changed in the second when Thornton put a no-look pass on Marleau’s stick from the corner and Reimer wasn’t ready for the high blocker-side wrist shot.
But Tyler Bozak didn’t think the pressure was getting to the Leafs.
“It’s fun to play at this time of year, when the last 20 games mean a lot. These are the games where everyone wants to play. It’s always exciting to have a little race going. But we’d like to have a cushion and be a little higher in the standings.”