Slow start again proves costly

James Reimer had a rough night in net letting in 4 goals. Toronto Maple Leafs vs Washington...

James Reimer had a rough night in net letting in 4 goals. Toronto Maple Leafs vs Washington Capitals at the ACC Saturday Feb. 25, 2012. (CRAIG ROBERTSON/QMI Agency)

ROB LONGLEY, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 12:00 AM ET

Whether it’s lack of confidence or competence, the slow starts by the Leafs sure are speeding up their death watch.

There they were Saturday night in the latest must-win situation reeling from their worst stretch since early last season.

So what do you get from them out of the gate against a Washington Capitals team that hasn’t looked anything like playoff material either and was making their third start in four nights?

A game that was as good as over before it started with a goal 32 seconds in and a second a little more than three minutes later, how’s that? For the fourth consecutive time in this four-game losing streak, the Leafs fell into a 2-0 hole.

With no heart and no offence, there was no climbing out and now the Leafs have lost eight of their past nine and are on “pace” for 85 points.

And as incredible as it seemed at the start of the month, holding on to 10th place seems more realistic than climbing up to eighth.

SATURDAY NIGHT SPECIAL

If you’re scoring at home, or at the bar, or wherever you like to watch your Hockey Night In Canada, it has been three consecutive weeks of unwatchable Saturday nights from the Leafs perspective. Take your pick at which was worse: 5-0 to the Habs, 6-2 to the Canucks or 4-2 to the Caps. The vote here is the most recent given the importance of the situation and the fact the Leafs didn’t even show up.

WILL SUNDAY BE BETTER?

Spoke with a Leafs source after the game who is hoping trade talks at least pick up on Sunday morning so that something can happen before the trade deadline. “Too quiet,” was his characterization of the action around the league. “Not much happening anywhere.” The problem, it appears, is that not enough teams are certain they are sellers and from those that are, the demands are either too high or teams can’t decide whether they want players or prospects. Hard to imagine the Leafs not exhausting every possibility to at least create some change around the team ... Coach Ron Wilson made sure he got a good kick in at goaltender James Reimer when it was time for the blame game. And freshly added to the list: The trauma of Monday’s trade deadline. “A young team is going to be affected by that,” Wilson said. “That will all clear up in about 36 hours.”

HOW GREAT IS EIGHT

It has mostly been a season to forget for Capitals’ star Alex Ovechkin, but nothing like a visit on Hockey Night In Canada (a situation he is well aware of and relishes) to wake up. Ovechkin earned a pair of assists to give him 42 points in 26 games against the Leafs. Included in that bunch is 14 multiple-point games.

Ovechkin admitted afterward that he relishes the challenge of facing Leafs captain Dion Phaneuf.

“I like playing against him,” said Ovechkin, who did all the early work on Keith Aucoin’s goal in the second to give the Caps a 4-0 lead. “When he gives a hit, it feels like I am in the game. I like it when it is physical.”

GAME ON

There really is no explanation for how three defensive breakdowns can happen 32 seconds in, but that’s exactly what occurred on Marcus Johansson’s opener. The guilty parties, in no particular order: Reimer for being far too slow to get across his crease to thwart the wraparound, defenceman Carl Gunnarsson for standing at the top of the crease watching it happen and Phaneuf for chasing Johansson behind the net ... The only thing worse came was Luke Schenn’s ghastly giveaway moments later setting up Alex Semin’s goal. And both of them were “stoppable” in the words of Wilson ... If it wasn’t abundantly clear already, the fans have seen enough. They boo the power-play, they boo the goaltending but the most unrest came midway through the second period when the Caps controlled the play in the Leafs zone for nearly a minute untouched. The loudest, of course, was when they were booed off the ice at the end.

MORE SCORE

Frustrated Toronto defenceman John-Michael Liles said afterward that the team isn’t playing “Leafs” hockey right now, pointing to the success they had earlier in the year. Trouble is, who can say which is the real Leafs team? The one that played with heart and used its speed to its advantage earlier or the one that is nearing rock bottom now ... Remember the talk earlier in the season about Phil Kessel’s improved play defensively? It certainly wasn’t anywhere to be found on the Halpern goal. In the guise of covering his point, Kessel cruised by Caps defenceman Dmitry Orlov who had a clear shot on net. Halpern got two cracks at it and suddenly the game was out of reach ... Did the Leafs really have to honour the 1962 Cup champions at such a crucial point of the season? Wilson complained earlier this week that February is a tough stretch to keep up the energy and the 20 minutes standing around couldn’t have helped ... The Caps didn’t care if they were on the guest list. They remained in the dressing room for the ceremony and came out flying ... Most alarming thing about the Caps’ first goal was the breakdown of fundamentals by Reimer who was too far to the right side of his net and too off balance to get back to the other side and make what should be a routine wraparound save ... What does it say about the Leafs’ defence that rookie Jake Gardiner is the runaway most consistent D-man on the team right now?


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