Not even Rick Nash could solve Leafs' problems
Terry Koshan, QMI Agency
|Leafs goalie James Reimer (left) reacts after being yanked in favour of Jonas Gustavsson during the second period in Vancouver last night. (REUTERS)
It’s hard to know where to start after the Maple Leafs’ dismal effort against the Vancouver Canucks on Saturday night.
Here’s what is clear: With 23 games remaining in the regular season, the Leafs look like nothing more than first-round fodder for the club that finishes first in the Eastern Conference, likely will be the New York Rangers.
This, of course, is making the fragile assumption that the Leafs will advance to the Stanley Cup playoffs for the first time since 2004. That’s no guarantee, even with the ninth-place Washington Capitals losing again on Saturday night, this time against the Tampa Bay Lightning.
The Leafs remain in eighth, but the feeling permeates that it’s just a matter of time before they let that placing slip out of their hands.
The Leafs are 3-7 against the top four clubs in the NHL — the Rangers, Canucks, Boston Bruins and the Detroit Red Wings. They have a long way to go before they can be considered in the same breath, and it’s not something that is going to develop in a couple of dozen games.
General manager Brian Burke has plenty to worry about before the NHL trade deadline hits in eight days. His club isn’t capable of playing consistent hockey, and the problems are a lot larger than anything Rick Nash could solve on the off-chance the Leafs acquire him from the Columbus Blue Jackets.
The Leafs were life and death to move the puck out of their own end, and when they did, the Canucks gave up nothing on the rush. When the Leafs were mired in the muck behind their blue line, the Canucks beat them to mostly everything and passed the puck around like they had it on a string.
Everyone talked about how the games after the all-star break were going to be tighter, more intense, more like playoff games.
In 10 games since the break, the Leafs are 4-5-1 and have been outscored 33-27. That kind of sub-.500 record, if it is maintained, will result in another spring without playoff games at the Air Canada Centre.
Never mind the big save when they need it, the Leafs aren’t getting many saves at all. James Reimer had little support but he was not sharp either, getting yanked in favour of Jonas Gustavsson after allowing four goals on 18 shots. You can consider the good things that Reimer was doing early in February officially gone. Reimer didn’t appear to be getting a quick read against the Canucks and sat back in his net. Gustavsson has to get another chance at starting when the New Jersey Devils visit the ACC on Tuesday ... There’s one simple rule Burke has to follow when one of his fellow GMs asks about rookie defenceman Jake Gardiner in trade talk: Press the red “end” button on his Blackberry. Gardiner’s poise at 21 is unmatched by more than a few NHL defencemen. A good example of Gardiner’s calm ways came in the first period, when Gardiner got the puck out of trouble as he was hounded by Alex Burrows and Henrik Sedin. It’s not just poise, of course, it’s the way Gardiner knows already what he can and can’t do when he has the puck. Gardiner is developing into the kind of player that can be a cornerstone. The Leafs don’t have another young player close to him ... If Burke refuses to trade Gardiner, Luke Schenn shouldn’t relax until the deadline on Feb. 27 has passed by. About all that Schenn really knows now is that, in all likelihood, he won’t be joining his brother Brayden with the Philadelphia Flyers, as Philly added Pavel Kubina after acquiring Nicklas Grossman ... That was Keith Aulie pinching in the Vancouver zone, leading to the Canucks’ first goal. The same Keith Aulie who spent a month in the minors before playing against Edmonton last Wednesday. Has Mike Komisarek, a healthy scratch on Saturday, really struggled that much? Aulie and Dion Phaneuf were fairly solid together last season. Coach Ron Wilson is hoping for the same now, but it would be a bit ridiculous after the brutal overall defensive effort to look at Komisarek and say, no, you’re not playing against the Devils.
From the hash marks
The Leafs couldn’t have been dominated more than they were in the first period, going almost the first five minutes without a shot on Roberto Luongo and then labouring through an 81/2-minute stretch without testing the Canucks goalie. It wasn’t just because the Canucks kept shutting them down, though. Both Clarke MacArthur and Matthew Lombardi had clear lanes to the net but chose to pass instead. That’s the kind of too-fancy hockey that will keep Wilson from sleeping at night ... Lombardi had a chance to clear the puck on the Canucks’ fifth goal, but instead put it on the stick of Daniel Sedin. The Canucks touched the puck no less than 17 times before Sami Salo wired a shot past Gustavsson on a power play ... It was almost as bad on Kevin Bieksa’s goal in the third. The Canucks passed the puck around like the Leafs weren’t even on the ice before Bieksa ripped a shot behind Gustavsson. ... One little thing to look forward to, even though the opponents will not be pushovers — the Leafs’ next four games are at home, where they are 16-9-4. The biggest match will be Saturday when the Capitals visit. The Leafs have to hope like crazy the Capitals suddenly don’t discover how to start scoring goals under coach Dale Hunter. If that happens, Toronto’s playoff hopes could be toast.