The Maple Leafs squad that vaulted into a playoff spot thanks to a strong December and January is showing more than a few signs of cracks penetrating its armour, and Saturday night’s edition of The Battle of Ontario is just the latest example.
Toronto rallied from a 2-0 deficit to take the lead, only to lose 6-3 in front of 19,527 fans at Air Canada Centre.
The result wasn’t merely a case of the team missing its leading scorer, Mitch Marner, out day-to-day with an upper body injury sustained in Wednesday’s defeat to Columbus.
Rather it was a combination of sloppiness, like the defensive breakdown on the Senators’ opening goal by Chris Wideman; missed assignments, such as Mike Hoffman getting behind the Leafs defenders to fire a perfect shot past Frederik Andersen; or weakness in the faceoff circle, as was evidenced by Ben Smith’s lopsided loss on the penalty-kill draw that led to Derrick Brassard’s eventual game-winner.
“I thought we were okay and then I thought we made some mistakes,” coach Mike Babcock said. “We made a big time mistake on their tying goal where we had two guys on the corner, we had no pressure on us so we rimmed it around and gave it away.
In saying that thought, we had ample, ample opportunity to win the game down the stretch. We had lots of push at the net and we didn’t score and they did.”
The Leafs to their credit showed resilience after giving up the first two goals of the game. Morgan Rielly fired a point shot through traffic to get his team on the board, then Nazem Kadri evened the affair with a bank shot from behind the net that caromed off the head of Sens forward Ryan Dzingel.
Early in the third period, William Nylander converted a crafty cross-ice pass from Auston Matthews on the power play to put Toronto in the lead.
But Toronto fell victim to its defensive miscues in surrendering the last four goals of the game, the latter two into an empty net. Mark Stone finished with a goal and three assists for Ottawa.
“We’ve got to go into the dirty areas, make sure we’re doing the things that are going to allow us to be successful,” Rielly said.
Toronto will be looking to reverse its fortunes on Sunday night in Carolina. The Leafs are just 4-8-1 this season in the second game of back-to-back nights.
The latest honourees for Legends Row: Charlie Conacher, Red Kelly, Frank Mahovlich and Wendel Clark were recognized in a pre-game ceremony.