The rebuild is under way. And Leafs fans better get used to the results.
Playing in their first game since dealing Cody Franson and Mike Santorelli, Toronto had their give-a-(expletive) meter at a minimum over the first two periods. A stretch of four conseuctive minor penalties was the team’s ultimate undoing in a 3-2 defeat to Florida on Tuesday.
The Panthers entered the game with the fourth-worst power play in the NHL, but managed to convert twice to claim a lead they wouldn’t relinquish. With the loss, the Leafs fell to 2-16-2 in their past 20 games, their worst span over that many outings since the 1984-85 season.
“I think that overall, our demise was (due to) the turnovers at both bluelines, the penalties, and our penalty killing, specially early, was too passive and we kind of gave them some opportunities there,” interim coach Peter Horachek said. “The penalty killing and the strategy of it, that’s more on me. The penalties, we’ve got to be a little more disciplined and when you look at them closely you can decide what you think of them.”
Florida’s two goals with the man advantage, plus an even strength marker by one-time Leafs draft pick Jimmy Hayes, gave the visitors all that they needed. By the time the second period buzzer sounded, the Leafs had mustered just 13 shots on Panthers netminder Roberto Luongo.
Over the final frame, however, Toronto found the moxie to outshoot their opponents 16-1. Then with 49.1 seconds left in the third period, and the Leafs outmanning the Panthers’ skaters six-to-four (due to a Dave Bolland penalty, plus Jonathan Bernier on the bench for an extra skater), Phil Kessel converted a cross-ice pass from Nazem Kadri to spark a comeback attempt.
To the dismay of Horachek, but to the delight of fans who are clamouring for a higher draft pick in the Connor McDavid lottery, time expired with nary a point in the standings for the blue and white.
Combined with Tyler Bozak’s first period power play tally, the Leafs actually matched the Panthers’ output with the man advantage, in fact registering a higher efficiency: 2-for-2, compared with Florida’s 2-for-5. But timing is everything. Had Toronto been able to quell the Panthers’ momentum over the first two periods, they might have been able to salvage a point.
The game marked the Leafs debut of veteran forward Olli Jokinen, obtained in Sunday’s trade. Finding himself in a first-to-worst scenario after being traded from league-leading Nashville, Jokinen surmised his observartions on his introduction to his new team – the ninth different franchise on which he has played.
“The one thing I noticed being around here is a lot of negative energy,” Jokinen said. “But as a team we have to find a way to bring the positive energy. We can create that here. We have to have pride. Once you put the jersey on, you’ve got to find a way to play for that logo.”
The team’s listless efforts are obvious to the newcomer. It’s no wonder they have wasted essentially a quarter of the season.
Follow TMLfans.ca on Twitter: @Rob_DelMundo