Costly breakdowns sink Leafs in Columbus

The Maple Leafs’ road woes in December were compounded by a 4-2 defeat in Columbus on Wednesday night. Any momentum that Toronto had gained from their blowout win against Carolina the previous day was stifled by the Blue Jackets defenders.

Conversely, Toronto struggled with containing their opponents’ attack, and the home team was opportunistic. Lukas Sedlak opened the scoring in the first period when he was completely left unguarded by defenceman Jake Gardiner.

Columbus extended its first period lead after William Nylander lost the puck in the offensive zone leading to a 2-on-1 break going in the other direction. Seth Jones promptly fired the puck past Curtis McElhinney for his team’s second goal.

Nylander and Gardiner atoned for their mistakes when, in the second frame, the forward spotted the defender at the point, Gardiner getting the Leafs to within 2-1 with his third goal of the year. But Pierre-Luc Dubois responded with a power play marker, midway through the game.

At the 11:51 mark of the third period, the Blue Jackets once again scored on an odd-man rush. Alexander Wennberg took advantage of a miscue by Connor Carrick, speeding down the left wing and beating McElhinney to give Columbus a 4-1 lead.

The silver lining to the Leafs’ black cloud came courtesy of Mitch Marner. Coming off a four-point effort on Tuesday, Marner went end-to-end with a burst of speed, culminating in a snipe past Joonas Korpisalo for his fourth goal of the season, a highlight-reel effort.

“I thought their team competed harder than us. We had the best back-to-back you can have. Sometimes you get a back-to-back and you get in at two in the morning and all that stuff. We were in at eight o’clock last night, so there’s no reason for us not to be ready here today,” coach Mike Babcock said to reporters after the game.

With the loss, the Leafs have lost four straight road games and are 1-5-0 away from Air Canada Centre in the month of December. The schedule works against the team’s favour, with an additional four games on the road slated to close out the 2017 calendar.