SUNRISE, FLA – Dejection was written boldly on the face of Mike Komisarek as he exited the visitors' dressing room at Bank Atlantic Center.
"I wish I had some answers for you," he told TSN.ca in a tone that was notably muted.
Falling 5-2 to the Panthers on Tuesday night, the Leafs dropped their 15th decision in the last 17 games (2-13-2), an unraveling almost unparalleled in recent memory. The misery has become so encompassing over those in its wake that a light at the end of the tunnel is no longer obvious in sight.
"I wish I knew," Komisarek said glumly, before departing.
Just three points up on the Canadiens for last-place in the Eastern Conference, the Leafs are falling further and further into a pit of despair. The Panthers struck 59 seconds into the first on Tuesday, coasting past their skidding opponents with relative ease for the fourth time in four meetings this season.
"My message was we self-destructed and that was what I told them," Randy Carlyle said sharply after the game. "They have to be realistic about what we did, how our performance was. We can't kid ourselves – a performance like that, we're held accountable and responsible to our actions."
"Unacceptable" offensive zone penalties, a leaky penalty kill – the Panthers scored twice on the powerplay – and a general unwillingness to fight for position in front of the opposition net all drew Carlyle's ire in a series of blunt post-game remarks.
Ultimately, it was just another loss in different fashion.
With the postseason no longer in sight these Leafs are playing for their future in Toronto. Brian Burke will have to thoroughly assess the wreckage and uncover why and how a team destined for the playoffs could torpedo in such devastating fashion.
Answers won't be readily apparent.
1. Reimer made his first start since February 28, surrendering a rebound goal to Bergenheim on the second shot of the game. "I thought he was very nervous early," Carlyle said. "I thought he settled down, but I thought he was very nervous earlier in the hockey game." Jason Garrison added the second Panthers goal on a redirected point shot, Tomas Kopecky deflected the third on a powerplay and Marcel Goc finally buried the fourth high-glove following a Carl Gunnarsson turnover in the defensive end.
2. The soon-to-be 24-year-old hadn't played since a 5-3 loss to the Panthers in Toronto last month, a game in which he yielded two goals in the opening two and a half minutes. "Obviously he's a smart coach and he knows what he's doing and he knows what he sees," Reimer said when informed of Carlyle's comments, "but for having not played for a while I felt better than I thought I would probably. I felt prepared, felt ready, just was unfortunate the way it went." Deeper into his analysis of what had just transpired, Reimer added, "Maybe I was a little nervous to start or maybe a little rusty, but I felt good."
3. In a discourse on his individual performance, Reimer offered thoughts that could very well apply to the entire group. "It's frustrating," he said, "but that's life. Sometimes it's a fairy tale and sometimes it's the opposite. I think it just comes down to the character you have. You have to choose what type of man you're going to be; are you going to be a guy that just sulks and pouts and feels sorry for himself or are you going to get up the next morning and work your butt off and try to make the most of your opportunity and what God's blessed you with. It does get a little frustrating, but it's all about working hard and doing your best next chance you get which is tomorrow in practice."
4. Tyler Bozak snapped a team-wide scoreless skid of slightly over 196 minutes when he deposited a Clarke MacArthur rebound past Jose Theodore in the second period. Misfiring offensively in each of the previous two games, Carlyle was unhappy with the lack of second effort in front of the Panthers goaltender. "The net presence is an issue for us," he lamented. "You've got to earn your stripes in front of the opposition's net and you can't accept being boxed out; you've got to battle to get inside."
5. Playing just his fourth NHL game, Ashton was joined by Bozak and MacArthur in marching to the penalty box from the offensive zone. "The area in which we took the penalties is unacceptable," Carlyle said. "You can't take penalties in the offensive zone and give the opposition opportunities to seize the momentum because we did have some things going for ourselves in the game and then we took ourselves out of the game by taking some offensive zone penalties 200 feet from our net."
Shortly after the Panthers second goal in the middle frame, Carlyle jugged all of his lines. MacArthur joined Bozak and Phil Kessel, Matt Frattin slid up to play with Nik Kulemin and Mikhail Grabovski, Tim Connolly joined Ashton and Dave Steckel and Joey Crabb rounded out the fourth unit with Jay Rosehill and Matthew Lombardi...Grabovski added his 22nd of the year in defeat…Gunnarsson finished with a minus-3 rating in defeat...The Leaf powerplay came up empty in two opportunities.