Leafs drop out of playoff spot
ROB LONGLEY, QMI Agency
|Kyle Wellwood of the Jets gets a rough ride from Dion Phaneuf and James Reimer of the Leafs on Saturday night in Winnipeg. It was Reimer who got the roughest ride, however, in a 3-2 Leafs loss. (Reuters)
WINNIPEG - The licence plates proclaim the folks here as being from “Friendly Manitoba” and, outside of their lively downtown rink, for the most part they are.
But when it comes to opposing NHL players, whether you are the pride of a small town not far away, you best prepare for a rough ride.
Leafs goaltender James Reimer was peppered with shots both on the ice and off on Saturday night at a rocking MTS Centre as the home-town Jets capped a remarkable year with a 3-2 win, sending their struggling visitors bumbling into the New Year.
A pair of power-play goals in the second — the first by Zach Bogosian and later from Blake Wheeler — paced the Jets, who started December in 13th place but have soared all the way up to a tie for sixth.
The Leafs, meanwhile, dropped all three games in their post-Christmas road trip and have plunged to 10th, two points behind the eighth-place Ottawa Senators. Not only that, their record in December slipped to 4-6-3, their first losing month of the season.
The struggling Leafs played hard at times, particularly in a fired-up third period, but couldn’t overcome the league’s worst penalty-kill that continues to be dreadful.
“We didn’t play hard enough in certain areas of the game and it showed,” Leafs defenceman Cody Franson said. “It’s up to us in here as a team to pull together and come out with a little better effort.”
Reimer was the latest victim of the Winnipeg tradition to ride the visiting goaltender, which they did with a derisive chant prior to puck drop. The noise got louder as the game progressed and the small contingent of family and friends from nearby Morweena had no chance of drowning it out.
The Leafs goaltender’s road struggles continued as he has now given up three or more goals in eight of his past 11 away games. During a between-periods interview with Winnipeg radio, Leafs general manager Brian Burke said far more is wrong with his team than Reimer, however.
“He’s given us some real good games and he’s given us some games that aren’t as sparkling as when he came up (last season),” Burke said. “I think he’s been good. I just think he can be better.”
The short-handed Leafs, down their top centre when Tyler Bozak suffered an apparent shoulder injury in practice Friday, were vastly outplayed in the second period, but came out with a huge effort in the third only to be stopped repeatedly by Jets goaltender Ondrej Pavelec.
The reeling Leafs were to ring in the New Year on a flight back to Toronto after the game with a sobering reality of their position in the standings.
“We need to be better if we are going to have any chance of making it,” defenceman Luke Schenn said.
Coach Ron Wilson blamed some of his team’s sloppiness on the fact that Reimer is screened too often by his own D, but the goaltender wouldn’t hear of it. “Being screened by your own teammates is something I don’t want to talk about at all,” said Reimer, who stopped the first 17 shots he faced before letting in two in a row on a 35-shot night. “I’ll never ever critique a D-man or forward for getting in my way.” ... Wilson singled out Joffrey Lupul and Jake Gardiner for getting in Reimer’s way and getting a piece of two pucks that got by the netminder ... Wilson was forced into a line dance with the injury to Bozak. The Leafs didn’t announce details, but placed Bozak on injured reserve earlier Saturday. Matthew Lombardi, out with his own shoulder injury for 18 games, was back in but Tim Connolly moved up to the top line between Kessel and Lupul ... As terrible as the Leafs PK has been, Wilson couldn’t resist a shot at the refs for making it worse. “For me, there were a couple of really questionable calls,” Wilson said ... The Leafs were outshot 13-4 in the second, in large part because they took three penalties that resulted in a pair of goals and a third that came just after a Leafs penalty ended ... At least the Leafs power-play contributed as Clarke MacArthur opened the scoring in the first with his 11th of the season off of a nice feed from defenceman Carl Gunnarsson.
The Jets had a dominating 28-12 edge in shots through two periods but Burke wasn’t buying the accuracy of the home-town shot clock. “I’d come back to the first period and count some of the shots,” Burke said. “I’m not sure who is doing the counting here.” Apparently, he’s not the first to raise an eyebrow to the stat this season ... The biggest thing the Leafs need from Reimer now is the game-changing saves that the 23-year-old seemed to do with regularity last season. On Saturday, Pavelec did just that as the Leafs turned up the heat in the third, getting the first seven shots while pressing for the tie ... Besides booing the goaltender, Jets fans also lay into the opponent’s stars, which meant Kessel and Dion Phaneuf were targetted every time they touched the puck ... It didn’t take long to miss Bozak as the Leafs won just two of 17 faceoffs (12%) in the first period. The Leafs figure that Bozak, who was easily having a career season, will be out for seven to 10 days or in Wilson’s words “possibly a little bit longer” with what they are calling an upper-body injury ... The Leafs got another injury scare when Kessel took a puck off the foot on a heavy shot from teammate Cody Franson. Kessel missed the last five minutes or so of the second but was on for the opening shift of the third. He was taking treatment after the game.
Reimer sure seems vulnerable to shots from the point lately as he seems caught too deep in his net. Bogosian’s opener for the Jets was the latest example ... Another Jets tradition: The entire arena yells “True North” on cue during the anthem, paying homage to the ownership group that brought NHL hockey back to town ... The penalty-kill is one thing, but the Leafs D continue to struggle mightily one-on-one with several more glaring examples versus the Jets.