TORONTO - Among the many things that have come undone with the Leafs this season has been their woeful performance on home ice.
Much like their soon-to-be seven seasons out of the playoffs, the home losing streak has never been worse than the one that added another notch Saturday night.
The shootout loss to the New York Rangers ran that total to nine in a row at the Air Canada Centre, a better effort, possibly, but the same disappointing result. The previous worst run at home was back in the Maple Leaf Gardens days, a seven-gamer in November-December, 1984.
But in terms of dramatic effect on the team, this one has been particularly devastating. It has gutted morale while turning the fans ugly at times.
It cost one coach his job and destroyed any hope the team might have had of making the post-season.
“At least we put on a little better effort out there for the fans,” forward Joey Crabb said. “It’s still frustrating. I understand why there is anger.”
Against the Rangers, the fans still interested enough to attend were “treated” to an extremely dull contest between a pair of teams finishing off back-to-backs. The Rangers seemed content to take it to a shootout while the Leafs’ contribution to the entertainment value was cracking 20 shots on net (25) for the first time in five games.
The Rangers may be holding on to the top seed in the East, but the way they are playing lately, don’t expect it to last. Sure they were weary, but the intensity they showed to get to the top of the conference seems to be waning. The league’s 29th-ranked power-play looks disoriented and there won’t be many fearing drawing the Blueshirts in the opening round ... The Leafs were outshot 33-25, cause for celebration given that they were on the lousy end of a 134-62 shot total in the previous four ... It might not have been the way he preferred, but Leafs coach Randy Carlyle’s line matching the David Steckel unit with the Rangers top trio centred by Brad Richards, ended up being a wash. Each line scored twice ... “I love that role, I’ve done it all my career,” said Crabb, who scored one of the Leafs goals, his 10th of the season ... Not much the checking line can do in the shootout, obviously, as Richards easily beat Jonas Gustavsson. The Monster, making his first start in seven games, was generally solid but still not a standout in the shootout. He seemed to freeze on Richards’ goal. Still, Carlyle was pleased enough with his peformance. “He gave us a chance to win,” Carlyle said.
With such little offence being generated by the Leafs, what chance does Phil Kessel have to reach 40 goals for the first time in his career? He’s got 36 now with six games remaining. If he misses many more like he did on the breakaway with a minute left in overtime, we don’t like his chances. Carlyle vowed that Kessel will be given every opportunity to thrive on his defence-first team. “All the offensive situations that are presented in a game, he gets a piece of,” Carlyle said. “His talents (won’t be wasted.) He should be able to utilize his minutes and utilize them to be positive for the hockey club.” ... The minus-10 he’s put up since Carlyle took over as coach finally caught up to defenceman Mike Komisarek, who was a healthy scratch for the first time since the Ron Wilson era. Cody Franson, who was a healthy scratch eight times under Carlyle, drew in on the blueline ... Kessel earned a nice assist on Franson’s fifth of the season but he must have had a moment of indecision when he saw who was with him on the rush. By waiting though, Kessel made Lundqvist commit leaving Franson a waiting empty net.
As you might have guessed, it only took Don Cherry roughly two breaths to mention Nazem Kadri on Coach’s Corner ... Kadri didn’t have the shootout magic that he had the previous night in New Jersey trying to deke to the right side of Henrik Lundqvist but was easily stopped ... Call them the anti-Leafs. With their win over Minnesota on Saturday night, the Sabres move into eighth place after what is now a 13-2-3 run. They’re two points up on the Caps, who have a game in hand. And here’s the crazy part: Buffalo is just three back of the Bruins for the Northeast Division lead. ... The Leafs had gone 128 minutes between power plays until they had a run of three in a row in the third. The Leafs weren’t able to capitalize, let alone mount any serious scoring opportunities. “That could have been a difference maker,” Carlyle said. ... Weird night for rookie Carter Ashton, who spent a couple of shifts early on a line with Kessel and Tyler Bozak but spent much of the second half-glued to the bench, logging just two minutes and 16 seconds. Carlyle said the reason was because every time he would throw his fourth line on the ice, Rangers coach John Tortorella would send one of their top two units out creating a mismatch he wanted to avoid.