The Toronto Maple Leafs gifted the Chicago Blackhawks a 5-spot but came up short with a valiant effort to tie the game in the dying seconds in a 5-4 loss at Scotiabank Arena Wednesday.
If comparable to a movie, “The Good, Bad and Ugly” comes to mind but not necessarily in that order. The opening period looked like the first scrimmage of training camp; sloppy play, careless turnovers, standing around and a lethargic effort from goal out.
For the first time in his career Frederik Andersen was pulled in back to back starts clearly off his game, slow to react to the play in front of him and just generally out of sync. Now he can’t be expected to perform Herculean feats game in and out, or can he? From the effort of the guys in front of him, they seemed to think he does.
With Travis Dermott and Jake Gardiner already down, Kasperi Kapanen and Zach Hyman joined them in sickbay as well. Their energy, strong fore-checking and character were noticeably absent, affecting all four units that appeared disorganized for the first 20-minutes. You’d think after 69 games with a chance to gain ground for home-ice, they wouldn’t need much coaxing to play with some desperation.
After a disastrous first and Garett Sparks in for Andersen, they played with a little more determination but the frustrations mounted with pucks bouncing over sticks, in their skates or just out of reach. Chicago played it a little more cautious sitting back but until Andreas Johnsson tipped in a Morgan Reilly shot from the point, was never in any real danger. As a matter of fact they added to their total before that to a carry a 5-1 lead into the final segment.
The light bulbs went off and suddenly the team Leafs Nation expected to see appeared with a bang. They were tenacious in pursuit of the puck, played with desperation and had the Hawks on their heels while firing 29-shots at Collin Delia.
The boys from the Windy city looked mesmerized by the blue and white onslaught that came within a whisker of blowing a 5-goal lead. A missed call when Delia kicked the net off its moorings in the last minute could have made it real interesting.
Auston Matthews played his best game in weeks; a force to be reckoned with that’s expected if they plan to play past the 2nd week of April.
However as exciting as the finish was (best of year) they still lost to a team well below in the standings. From the quiet crowd similar to the dog days at Maple Leaf Gardens in the 1980’s, Leafs Nation is nervous, anxious and worried by this continuous trend of uninspired play from the locals.
Sounding like a broken record, talent alone does not carry a team very far in today's NHL and if the Leafs don’t grasp that soon (practice today), they’ll have a very long off-season to study.