By: David Alter
Jonas Gustavsson’s struggles between the pipes led to a Leafs 3-0 loss to the Carolina Hurricanes. The loss means the Maple Leafs are mathematically eliminated from the post-season. It’s an epic free-fall considering this team was nine-games over .500 on February 6th.
“As an organization it’s very disappointing,” said Phil Kessel who will finish with a season high in points and has already matched his high in goals. “It doesn’t matter if you have a good individual season or not we’re here to win as a hockey team.”
Since the winning days, the Leafs have gone 5-16-3. They fired their coach and replaced him with Randy Carlyle. It was a move that hasn’t brought immediate success.
This night resembled many here at Air Canada Centre. Questionable goals allowed leading to angst from the fans. Heavy boos, Bronx cheers…you name it. The Leafs have lost ten straight games at home and will now miss out on the post-season for the seventh consecutive season.
“It’s tough we’d love to play in the playoffs here, especially in Toronto,” said Carl Gunnarsson. “It’s never fun losing the playoffs. We’ve got a good group. I like this group I know what we can do when we play well.”
Prior to the game, all signs pointed to James Reimer getting the start in goal. Just over a couple of hours prior to game time, the Maple Leafs would call up Jussi Rynnas from the Marlies on emergency, while announcing that Reimer was sidelined with an “upper body” injury.
“He got a shot yesterday at practice and he was feeling ill and didn’t feel right so for precautionary reasons we thought it’d be good for him to get a chance to rest today” said Head Coach Randy Carlyle. “I was surprised as anybody at 1 o’clock as I was getting ready to go home for the afternoon and I walked by the training room and was informed that he wouldn’t be available to us tonight.”
What’s not clear right now is if Reimer’s feeling ill has anything to do with concussion symptoms that had kept him out of the lineup for about six weeks.
Jussi Jokinen opened the scoring at the 13:05 mark of the first period. The goal made Gustavsson look bad, despite a deflection by defenceman Cody Franson.
A little over five minutes later, former Maple Leaf forward Tim Brent would beat Gustavsson. The Hurricanes would take that two goal lead into the second period, where it would only take 37 seconds when another former leaf (Jay Harrison) would beat Gustavsson on a routine shot, and Rynnas would be thrust into his first ever NHL appearance.
“You’re never happy when you get pulled No matter what kind of goals” said Gustavssson. “It was fun to see Jussi (Rynnas) come in and he played solid and did a good job.”
Rynnas made ten saves in relief, allowing zero goals.
From the get go, it appeared as though there was some reason for the Leafs slump and they would eventually find a way to dig out of it.
First it was the distraction of the trade deadline. Maple Leafs GM Brian Burke pointed to that being a hinderance of a large enough proportion to contemplate putting in his own self-imposed trade-deadline.
The deadline would come and go. With nothing that could be done from a roster standpoint, Burke would relieve Ron Wilson of his duties as Head Coach and put in Randy Carlyle.
Leaning on a tighter checking defensive-minded system, the Leafs haven’t been able to find much success.
“It seems to be more of an issue at home than it is on the road,” said Carlyle who has yet grab a win on home ice as coach of the Leafs. “We seem to play more intense or more conservative of whatever it is, that’s the frustrating part for us as a coaching staff. We want to win at home.”
Inexperience could play a large role in this. A relatively young team, there isn’t anyone to look to when times are tough. A lot of teams go through their slumps but usually find a way to pull out of it at some point. It simply hasn’t happened with this team and reasons within the club appear to be inexplicable.
“It hasn’t been a very good slide that we’ve been on, we’ve struggled and it’s disappointing to be mathematically out of it,” said captain Dion Phaneuf. “It snowballed on us. We lost a lot of tight games and we could not recover or find a way out of it as a group.”
If that’s the case, it probably about time to start thinking about changing up the group.