The Maple Leafs looked at Tuesday's match in Vancouver as a test of their emergency response plan, their first without top scorer/defenceman Bryan McCabe.
But instead of holding the fort, there were awkward moments when the Leafs evacuated the building. They didn't stink the joint out in a 4-3 loss to the Vancouver Canucks, out-shooting the home team 38-19. But the powerplay did going 1-for-7, which did nothing to get general manager John Ferguson to call off a search for blue-line depth as the March 9 trade deadline approaches.
Even when McCabe is in the lineup and the Leafs are playing 5-on-5, their top defencemen won't be mistaken for Savard, Robinson and Lapointe. Coach Pat Quinn used Tomas Kaberle and Ken Klee as his top pair on Tuesday, endured the usual inconsistency from Aki Berg and Alex Khavanov, while the rookie experiment of Staffan Kronwall and Carlo Colaiacovo was a minus-2.
"We'll put it behind us and look forward (to Saturday's home game against Phoenix)," Colaiacovo said as the Leafs headed home from their Western Canadian trip with a record of 1-2. "There weren't a lot of things that went wrong. Bryan's a tough guy to fill in for. He logs a lot of minutes. We tried to do our best back there."
McCabe departed Vancouver a day earlier, after it was decided not to risk him against the Canucks with a groin injury he sustained Saturday in Edmonton.
"We hope he's back Saturday," Ferguson said. "He went home to get treatment and he responded well, but it's premature (to say he will play). He won't be rushed. We'll have a better idea closer to the game."
Ferguson watched Tuesday's game with Leafs' player personnel director Mike Penny and neither could have been happy with elements of the Leafs' coverage on at least three of the Vancouver goals. It was Kronwall's worst game of his 20 appearances, though Colaiacovo did well in his first action since a Dec. 27 wrist injury, surviving a dangerous boarding penalty by Ryan Kesler.
"That aggravated it a little bit, but it feels good," Colaiacovo said of his hand.
The Vancouver game was the 17th one-goal result in the past 22 for the Leafs, who have mucked through for a record of 10-7 in those tight contests.
"We've solidified our defence lately," Ferguson said when asked to assess the overall state of his blue line. "If you look at our goals against in the last stretch, it's much better and (has) given us an opportunity to win.
"That being said, we're always looking at ways to improve our club, internally and externally, and we will continue those."
The only defenceman with the farm team Marlies who has played a National Hockey League game this year is Andy Wozniewski, while Ian White and Jay Harrison are plus-9 and seven respectively. But it's more likely Ferguson will consider bringing in experienced help, given that salary might not be as big an issue for the cap conscious Leafs this late in the season.