Leafs defence shoddy play leads to four Flames goals

ROB LONGLEY, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 1:11 AM ET

TORONTO - One way or another, the Maple Leafs defence was going to be the story Thursday night in Calgary.

The eventual outcome, a 5-2 throttling at the hands of the Flames, wasn’t all about the Toronto captain, however, as the defensive sloppiness was generously spread out among the rest of the struggling blue-line crew.

Shoddy play by the Leafs defence led to the first four Calgary goals taking away any chance of a much-needed Alberta sweep.

It started on the Calgary opener, to erase a 1-0 Toronto lead, when rookie Keith Aulie had trouble clearing a puck behind his own net leading to a turnover and a Mikael Backlund goal at 7:11 of the first.

Next up was Luke Schenn’s poor clearing attempt setting up Alex Tanguay’s ninth of the season to kick off a three goals in 57 seconds back-breaker for the Leafs.

Goal three may have been the worst as we lost count of how many Toronto defenceman had a chance to clear the zone and couldn’t get it done. Enough was enough and Olli Jokinen finished it off on the power play to give the Flames a 3-1 lead.

One more for good measure resulted on a Flames two-on-one created by a failed pinch by the Leafs’ Francois Beauchemin.

By the second intermission the Leafs, who haven’t won in Calgary since 2002, couldn’t get out of town quick enough.

Game on

Interesting move then by Leafs coach Ron Wilson to put in Jonas Gustavsson for the third period after J-S Giguere made a handful of huge saves before letting in a couple of soft ones after being hung out to dry. The guess here is that Wilson wanted to give Gustavsson some action before a likely start Saturday in Vancouver after Giguere started his third in a row ... You can’t always trust the official stats, but this one may have even been generous in favour of the visitors. The Leafs were charged with 11 turnovers in the second period (see above) ... After a better night in Edmonton, the Leafs faceoff struggles continued with the top two centres the biggest culprits. Mikhail Grabovski was 2-or-7 while Tyler Bozak won just six of his 16 draws ... The Leafs can’t have any regrets about wildly inconsistent Nik Hagman being shipped to Calgary in the Dion Phaneuf deal, but the sometimes flashy Finn had a goal and two assists Thursday to rub it in a little. Of course, if his Toronto form holds true, Hagman may not score again until the new year ... The other ex-Leaf in the Flames lineup, Matt Stajan, wasn’t so fortunate. The Mississauga native had an assist, but hasn’t scored in 44 games and won’t have many better chances than he did on Thursday. He was bothered on a first period breakaway but in the second missed a wide-open net as Grabovski just got his stick on a shot.

More score

They can be as encouraged as they want about some improved recent play, but the Leafs can’t afford to lose games against lower echelon teams. With 28 points in 31 games, the team is only marginally better than it was at the same point last season when the point total was 27. A loss Saturday in Vancouver and the Leafs would be behind that pace ... How about this for a little late entertainment for the locals. Flames captain Jarome Iginla was awarded a penalty shot with a minute and a half left after being hauled down by none other than Phaneuf. Iginla couldn’t fool Gustavsson, however, who got his blocker on the shot despite going the wrong way. Not necessarily a surprise though, considering Iginla is 0-for-6 in his career on penalty shots ... That was a weak short-handed breakaway attempt by Grabovski in the first. Maybe he should have stuck with the shootout spinerama that worked so well a few games back ... On the other hand, you won’t see many better goals than Grabovski’s blast to the top corner midway through the third giving him five goals in his past six games.

Overtime

One of the things the Leafs love about Giguere is his work with the young players — and not just second-year goaltender Gustavsson. You saw it again Thursday during a timeout when Giguere went to the bench to offer a little advice to rookie defenceman Aulie, who had a little trouble working the Saddledome boards behind the Toronto net ... All that time in the Western Conference can’t hurt Giguere, who had another big game in Alberta. His stabbing glove save on the Flames’ Alex Tanguay in the first was worth catching the highlight. Another on Jokinen in the second was even better with defenceman Brett Lebda all over him ... The Leafs saw their road record dip to 4-9-1.


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