A trip to California provided at least a temporary setback to the playoff dreams of the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Three games in four nights against the San Jose Sharks, L.A. Kings and Anaheim Ducks can be a difficult task for any club, whether they’re at the top of the standings, middle of the pack or at the bottom. For the Maple Leafs, full of youth and an abundance of talented stars-in-the-making, they were able to secure only a single point out of a possible six, which obviously does nothing to help their playoff ambitions.
The trip was capped off Friday with a 5-2 loss to the Ducks — and former Leafs coach Randy Carlyle and goalie Jonathan Bernier.
It was a game Toronto actually had the lead in before Jakob Silfverberg and Rickard Rakell scored just 16 seconds apart and Anaheim took back the lead for good. Sami Vatanen, left all alone to bury a Ryan Getzlaf pass, put it further out of reach as the Ducks capitalized on defensive breakdowns from a young team that coach Mike Babcock lamented afterward.
The pant-dropping moments were junior-hockey-worthy mistakes. Marner and Connor Brown, the latter one of the Leafs’ most impressive forwards in Thursday’s game in L.A., both made turnovers that keyed goals. Babcock called timeout, huddled the troops, offered what appeared to be a stern lecture.
Marner was benched, at least briefly, playing 4:13 in the second period – considerably less than his usual minutes. But by the time Anaheim’s Sami Vatanen found himself alone on the back door less than two minutes into the third period — Ryan Getzlaf’s cross-eye threading setting up the one-timer — the Leafs seemed beyond redemption.
“I thought we did tons of good things but I didn’t like the free goals we gave them,” said Babcock, per the Toronto Sun. “I thought we gave them three of them. The NHL is too good a league to think you are going to outscore your mistakes.
“You have to take care of the puck, you have to check right and you have to know what you are doing without the puck. It was evident on three of those goals we didn’t.”
A fruitless trip to California does not doom an entire season, though it’s certainly far from ideal at this time of year and given what is at stake.
The Maple Leafs were only one point out of a wild card spot prior to puck drop for Saturday’s schedule of games. They were also two points out of third place and four points out of second in the Atlantic Division.