Leafs get Tanked by Sharks

ROB LONGLEY, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 8:24 AM ET

SAN JOSE — Brian Burke landed in California last night ready to get to work on his first business trip with his new employer.

He talked about organizational charts, assessing talent and taking stock of the company assets.

Facing the current elite of the NHL, the Maple Leafs gave their new president and general manager an outlook bleak enough to match your neighbourhood financial planner.

Overwhelmed by the best team in the NHL, the Leafs drowned in the Shark Tank, trailing 4-0 after 19 minutes on their way to a non-threatening 5-2 loss.

It wasn’t so much an awful effort by the Leafs as a severe disparity in talent facing a Sharks team that is the clear early favourite to win the Stanley Cup.

“They’re the best team in the league,” Leafs defenceman Jeff Finger said. “And tonight they showed why.”

Before the Sharks put on the show, Burke met briefly with coach Ron Wilson and his staff prior to the game, played before a sellout crowd at the HP Pavilion, to start what he expects to be a busy and productive three days.

He’ll continue with the team to Phoenix where he intends to meet with consultant and outgoing general manager Cliff Fletcher, assistant GM Jeff Jackson and special assistant Joe Nieuwendyk and get to know the team inside and out.

“I have two priorities,” Burke said shortly after landing here after being fogged into Boston for a day. “One is to spend time with the staff and see who does what, how this works. Cliff, obviously will have the most insight on that. The other is to spend time with whatever players I can and keep assessing the team.”

Based on last night, that assessment will have its blunt side. The Sharks scored four times on their first 12 shots fired at Vesa Toskala and were better, faster and stronger than the Leafs in just about every way.

The Leafs started out like they didn’t know what hit them, a suicide pact against a team like the high-flying Sharks which now has won eight in a row and has yet to lose in regulation time at home.

“That was one you throw the white towel in from the corner in a boxing match,” Wilson said. “If somehow we could have survived the first 12 minutes, I think we would have found our equilibrium.”

Wilson was particularly peeved with the play of the Leafs' top line of Nik Antropov, Matt Stajan and Alexei Ponikarovsky, which was manhandled by the Sharks' No. 1 trio in the first period. Collectively, the Leafs line was minus-9 at the end of the game.

“Our best players got completely outplayed, especially in the first period,” Wilson said. “One line stood around in the first period and they were minus-3. That can’t happen. They were matching their top line against ours and we just got beat, plain and simple.”

Antropov, for one, had no argument with his coach’s assessment.

“I can’t even describe the way I played in the first period,” Antropov said. “Myself, in particular, it was just a disaster for me. It was like my head was on a swivel. (Down) four goals against that team, it’s not too easy to battle back.”

The game started ugly when the Sharks' unlikely leading scorer, Devin Setoguchi, scored his 13th of the season on a weak backhander Toskala should have handled, just 75 seconds in.

Joe Thornton jammed a second past Toskala in a goalmouth scramble at the 6:35 mark and the rout was on. Thornton, a favourite of Wilson’s when they were together in San Jose, had four points in the first period and was named the game’s first star.

“It was like we had the game won after the first period,” Thornton said.

Dan Boyle, Marc-Edouard Vlasic and a short-handed effort by Joe Pavelski rounded out the Sharks scoring while Nikolai Kulemin and Nik Hagman countered for the Leafs.

“We didn’t help (Toskala) at all tonight,” Stajan said. “They are a good hockey team and you can’t think you are going to come back against a team like that when you get off to a start like that.

“It’s over now and we’ve got to learn from it.”

With an off-day today in Phoenix in advance of tomorrow’s contest with the Coyotes, Burke plans to meet with as many players as he can.

“(Being on the road) makes it easy to talk to people, get to know them,” he said. “There’s some free time. It’s where I’ve always spent the most time with my players, on the road.”

Even if that road has bumps like the big one they hit last night in Northern California.


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