Leafs fans all know the story. A horrendous January has contributed to the franchise’s longest losing streak in nearly a half-century.
In fact the last time Toronto lost ten consecutive games was during the 1966-67 season, the year that a roster dubbed the ‘over the hill gang’ recovered from their funk to claim the Stanley Cup.
And, there were no bonus points for shootout losses back then. So, this year’s slumping edition of the team is actually one point better than the team that was iced in Canada’s centennial year…meaning that they can expect a similar result? Or contend? Or…. (yeah, I can’t keep a straight face either).
How did the 2014-15 sad-sack Leafs get here? Here are ten low-lights of the campaign so far:
10. The media over-coverage of “salute-gate”.
So the Leafs players didn’t honour the “time-honoured tradition “(snicker) of raising their sticks to the Air Canada Centre fans after a 5-2 win over Tampa on November 20. What followed was a deluge of scrutiny that couldn’t possibly have been formulated in any other city. Footage of the team leaving the ice, both in that game and the team’s next win, was dissected more heavily than the Zapruder film of the Kennedy assassination. You’d think that either the on-ice product, or $15 beers and crappy in-game entertainment at ACC would be better targets of the ire of the critics.
And to the patrons who were actually offended by the snub – yes, both of you – wouldn’t you love to have the problem of a three-goal victory right about now.
9. Opening night loss to Montreal
Any loss to the hated rivals doesn’t sit well for Toronto fans. But the Leafs played well enough for 59 minutes to earn at least a point. However, the Habs played the role of spoiler when Tomas Plekanec banked a shot off rookie Leaf blueliner Stuart Percy’s skate to win the game 4-3 in regulation time. Which asks the question: What was Percy doing out there in the last minute, anyway?
8. Loss in Carolina after 10-1-1 run
On December 18, the Leafs went into the Tar Heel state winners of six straight games, while the bottom-feeding Hurricanes had been winless in as many outings. At the time Toronto’s record was 19-9-3 (41 points), while Carolina was just 8-19-3 (19 points). Unfathomably, the result was a 4-1 victory for the Hurricanes.
Actually, considering the Leafs’ historical record against teams that they should beat, the defeat came as a surprise to few.
7. Loss to Florida after leading 4-2
Sticking with the “teams that you should beat” theme, the Leafs found themselves up 4-2 over the Florida Panthers on December 28, carrying that lead into the third period. Prior to their first post-Christmas outing, Toronto had a 14-0-0 record when leading after forty minutes. But the wheels fell off and the host Panthers reeled off four consecutive goals, including an empty-netter, for the comeback.
6. Losing California
A three- game stretch of games in the Golden State from January 12-15 saw the Leafs outscored 9-1 in losses to Los Angeles, Anaheim and San Jose. The first two games in Orange County were shutouts. Punctuating the road trip, Toronto’s scoring woes carried over to St. Louis where they were blanked once again. Not even the most pessimistic Leafs observer could have projected this sudden drop in production from what had been the highest-scoring NHL team only a few weeks earlier.
5. Anti-Reimer tweets
After James Reimer had a poor outing against Buffalo, giving up every Sabres goal in a 6-2 loss on November 15, his wife April was the target of abusive tweets. Sadly, this wasn’t unchartered territory for Mrs. Reimer who was forced to endure similar indignities earlier in the calendar year.
In early January, April Reimer launched TweetSweet.ca aimed at countering cyber-bullying. Full marks go out to her for the initiative.
Yet it’s a sad indictment of those minority of Leafs fans whose cowardly, hateful attitudes take their 140-character platforms to a disgusting level, all while shielded by the sanctity of a computer, without ever having the guts or balls to repeat their statements face-to-face.
4. Loss to Arizona – Bernier’s gaffes
Oliver Ekman-Larsson scored from 140 feet on Jonathan Bernier at the start of the third period. And then Martin Hanzal scored from the goal line. The two Coyotes goals erased what had been a 1-0 Leafs lead. The train wreck is still fresh in everyone’s mind, so there’s no need to analyze it.
Instead I’ll share a funny story: I was covering the game from my usual perch in the Air Canada Centre media gondola, and I missed Ekman-Larsson’s goal. I happened to take a washroom break towards the end of the second intermission, and was just heading back to my seat when I heard a collective gasp throughout the building.
But at least I wasn’t the only one; I’m sure the corporate stockbrokers heading back to their platinum seats after going for $50 sushi missed watching history – the fastest NHL shorthanded goal to ever start a period – as well.
3. Loss to Winnipeg – Carlyle Firing
The Leafs 5-1 loss at MTS Centre finished off a 2-5-0 road trip for Toronto, and signaled the end of Randy Carlyle’s tenure behind the bench. The firing surprised few. The timing of the move raised a few eyebrows. The writing on the wall seemed apparent after the Leafs’ post-Olympic collapse to fall out of playoff contention last year. Instead, Carlyle was rewarded with a contract extension.
Furthermore, the move was made without an immediate long-term successor. Carlyle’s dismissal leaves Peter Horachek at the helm of a rudderless ship.
2. Phil Kessel: “You Think It’s My Fault?”
Let’s just watch it again.
1. Embarrassing 9-2 loss to Nashvile
The Leafs’ tenth straight defeat came in Nashville on Tuesday night. Despite the loss, Toronto actually put up a decent effort, unlike their lethargic showing at ACC on November 18 when they seemed content to join the spectators.
A 4-0 deficit after the second period turned into utter catastrophe that had four more Predators goals before Toronto even bulged the twine.
And what else, sweaters on the ice, of course.
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