The Detroit Red Wings are far removed from their dynasty days of winning four Stanley Cups in eleven seasons.
Last spring, the team came perilously close to having its run of 22 consecutive years of making the playoffs snapped. Pundits predict them to be a bubble team for the post-season in 2014-15.
So if Friday’s mismatch at Air Canada Centre is any indication, the Leafs outlook for playing hockey past the second week of April is grossly pessimistic.
Okay, it’s just five games into the season and maybe premature to press the (Richard) ‘Panik’ button.
But if the Leafs, playing at home on two days’ rest, allow themselves to be outworked, outmuscled and outclassed by their Atlantic Division rivals as they were in their 4-1 lethargic defeat, they certainly can’t be expected to contend for any of the top eight seeds in their conference.
The defensive effort was mortifying.
Roman Polak’s first period giveaway that resulted in Johan Franzen’s first of two goals on the night seemed to set the trend. Jake Gardiner, playing in his first game after being a healthy scratch for two consecutive outings, had a great view of Henrik Zetterberg waltzing by him before the Wings’ captain set up Franzen once again for a score.
And in the third period, Cody Franson spent too much time admiring Gustav Nyquist’s playmaking, not realizing that Justin Abdelkader was pinching in behind him, putting the game out of reach with Detroit’s fourth and final marker at that point.
Zetterberg finished with a career-best four assists in the game.
How much more lopsided would the result have been if Pavel Datsyuk wasn’t injured?
Leafs coach Randy Carlyle chided his team for their poor neutral zone play, repeating on more than one occasion his disappointment that the players had 11 turnovers in the opening period in which they also went offside four times.
One point of consolation for the club was their penalty-killing, holding the Red Wings scoreless on five opportunities, including a two-man Detroit advantage for 53 seconds of the final frame. Of course, not taking penalties such as the foolish David Clarkson tripping infraction in the offensive zone would certainly help Toronto’s cause.
To his credit, Clarkson (pictured) and his sandpaper-style linemates Mike Santorelli and Leo Komarov once again made their presence felt with Santorelli getting the only Leafs goal of the night.
The success of the Leafs penalty kill was tempered with the loss of Brandon Kozun, who showed incredible effort on each of Detroit’s first three penalties, including forcing Franzen to take a hooking penalty to prevent a breakaway. In the second period Kozun was taken into the boards by Kyle Quincey and had his left leg pinned between his body and the end boards on a collision.
Kozun left the ice not putting any weight on his leg. Carlyle said Kozun will undergo an MRI for what may be a high ankle sprain, and will not travel to Detroit for the rematch in the home-and-home series on Saturday.
The Leafs have all but rolled out the welcome mat for teams visiting ACC, not winning a game in regulation in four home starts.
If they become too charitable to their guests, there won’t be an opportunity to host a game at 40 Bay Street after the regular season ends.
Notes: For the second time in three home games, an unhappy fan tossed his Leafs sweater onto the ice. Not wanting to give this story any more attention than necessary, I’ll just say that it’s a ridiculous act of protest. If you don’t want your sweater anymore, donate it to charity. Maybe a homeless person could use it…One of the more instances of sweater-throwing came in the Leafs first-round playoff series in 1988. They lost Game 4 on home ice by a score of 8-0. Their opponents were Detroit…As per Toronto Star writer @kevin_mcgran, the last time the Leafs and Red Wings played back-to-back games was February 8-10, 2001. Current Leafs president Brendan Shanahan played in both games for Detroit.
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