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Siegel: Leafs fail to topple another California giant

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Jonas Siegel
3/12/2014 9:24:22 AM
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SAN JOSE – Through the first 10 minutes of an incredibly one-sided middle period the hometown Sharks had wrung up 15 shots to just a single measly one for their counterparts from Toronto.

It was that kind of night in San Jose for the Maple Leafs, trounced 6-2 on the second stop of their three-game tour through the perilous California triangle. Though they managed to elude the Ducks in Anaheim just a night earlier, Toronto could not ultimately find the necessary juice to topple another giant at the SAP Center on Tuesday night.

“It was like there was one puck and they had it,” said head coach Randy Carlyle afterward. “We didn't have a chance to play with it much. That gets frustrating for everybody.”

About as dominant as they get in the NHL on home ice – they're now 25-4-4 – and in the league generally speaking, the Sharks took control for good on this night midway through the first and right on into that dominant second frame, one that saw them plaster 17 shots on an often helpless James Reimer. In fact, San Jose had rung up more shots at one point in the early stages of the period alone than the Leafs had mustered all night.

“I thought we did a lot of things that gave them a lot of opportunities, specifically turning the puck over,” Carlyle said of the effort, his team outshot 48-21 overall. “And we didn't skate. We were standing still.”

Marc-Edouard Vlasic landed the game's first goal before four minutes had elapsed on the clock, capitalizing on a careless Jake Gardiner defensive zone giveaway. Gardiner matched the marker himself 25 seconds later on a rush with Mason Raymond, but from that point on the waters firmly swung in the Sharks direction.

Punishing the Leafs with their size, speed and skill, they would score four unanswered, including a pair from Joe Pavelski.

“Just from the very beginning we weren't ready to play,” said Gardiner, who added a second goal in defeat.

It was only the fourth regulation loss for the Leafs in the past 21 games – 14-4-3 – an unlikely stretch which has seen them capture points with incredible regularity. They sit second in the Atlantic division even after Tuesday's defeat, one point up on the Canadiens with 78 points.

Considering that overall performance in the past two months, this most recent defeat would appear a one-off beat-down at the hands of an elite opponent, one with very real Stanley Cup aspirations this season. One loss can turn into two pretty quickly on the left coast though with another lofty challenge lying ahead for the Leafs on Thursday night. They'll face the Kings, winners of eight straight, at the Staples Center.

“You have to flush it,” said Dion Phaneuf of the loss, which snapped a three-game win streak. “There's no sitting around pouting about it because we're going into a building with a team that's playing very well right now. There's no time to sit around and pout.”

Five Points

1. Scary Collision

It was the signature Phaneuf open-ice hit. Only instead of landing the desired opponent, Patrick Marleau in this case, Phaneuf's shoulder caught the head of James van Riemsdyk in a thunderous collision of teammates.

Remaining down for a few moments, van Riemsdyk left the ice for concussion tests only to return a short while later, however unlikely given the blowout. “I was pretty worried when [I saw] him go off the ice, but very relieved to see him come back and talk to him and know that he's okay,” said Phaneuf.

It was odd to see the 24-year-old return – he had four shifts afterward – given his recent concussion history. van Riemsdyk missed 15 games with a concussion during the 2011-12 season, but was deemed fine to return in the latter stages of the final frame on this night.

Oddly enough, his skate laces on both skates were cut in the collision.

“I don't know how that happened,” said Carlyle, managing a grin.

2. Scraps

Plenty frustrated with the night's proceedings, Toronto assumed the league-lead in fighting with four more scraps in San Jose and 44 now on the year. Troy Bodie, David Clarkson, Tim Gleason and Joffrey Lupul all fought on Tuesday night, just a day after the group fought three times in Anaheim.

“Frustration more than anything I would say,” Carlyle said of the fisticuffs.

Employing Colton Orr and Frazer McLaren only sparingly this season – due to injuries or otherwise – the Leafs have not fought with any near the regularity of a year ago. They dropped the gloves 44 times in 48 games last season, only now hitting that mark with 15 games to play.

3. Reimer's Rough Night

Roughed up for six goals on 48 shots against the Sharks, James Reimer rarely looked comfortable in the Toronto crease. Playing second fiddle to Jonathan Bernier, the 25-year-old was making just his fourth start since his last win on Jan. 21.

“I felt pretty good out there,” said Reimer afterward. “I felt like I was battling and working as hard as I could, just pucks found a way through.”

Some of those pucks found a way through under challenging circumstances. The Sharks second goal, a blast from Brent Burns, found its way through after a scrum in the Toronto crease that saw Joe Thornton fall on Reimer. The goal was initially waved off – the official hadn't seen it go in – but ruled good via replay from NHL headquarters in Toronto.

In other situations, Reimer was either helpless – Vlasic's goal for instance, which sailed through a maze of traffic after the Gardiner giveaway – or just plain fighting the puck, Pavelski's first marker of the night sliding under his right arm.

“It just was one of those nights where things didn't go my way, whether it was people sitting on me or scrums that pucks found a way through the bodies or tipped off people or what,” Reimer said.

4. Effects of Seven Defencemen

Because of an illness to Cody Fransonthe Leafs did not dress seven defenders against the Sharks, but the effects of their preferred lineup construction are interesting to digest.

Outside of offering an extra shift or two a period to the likes of Phil Kessel, Joffrey Lupul, or James van Riemsdyk, adjusting to a lineup featuring seven defencemen has allowed Carlyle (or Dave Farrish more specifically) to spread the minutes more evenly amongst the blueline.

The two who have been most effected by the change are Gardiner and his regular defence partner, Franson. From a season-high of nearly 24 minutes on average in December, the 23-year-old Gardiner has seen that ice drawn back considerably to under 18 minutes most nights. He also been effectively removed from the penalty kill.

Franson meanwhile averaged better than 20 minutes for the first four months of the regular season, but he too has seen that opportunity dip in recent weeks. The 26-year-old did not play 20 minutes in any of the previous six games featuring seven defencemen, stuck most nights between 15-19 minutes. His penalty killing opportunities have also diminished though not to the extent of Gardiner.

Battling undisclosed “bumps and bruises” post-Olympic break and annually overworked, Dion Phaneuf has had his ice-time slightly eased with the shift to seven defenders, playing 22-23 minutes recently.

Carl Gunnarsson – who remains a top pairing penalty killer – and Morgan Rielly – who does not kill penalties – have been unaffected by Ranger's addition.

5. Goin' Back To Cali

Jonathan Bernier will meet some former Kings teammates for dinner on Wednesday night. The 25-year-old is getting set to visit his old L.A. stomping grounds for the first time as rival on Thursday evening.

“Try to let them know that they've got to shoot wide,” he said with a laugh.

Stats-Pack

44 – Fights for the Leafs this season, leading the league.

48-21 – Shot advantage for the Sharks on Tuesday night.

6-2-1 – Record for the Leafs in their past nine games against the Western Conference.

6 – Fights for David Clarkson this season. Clarkson fought Andrew Desjardins in the middle period, his third fight in the past two games.

14-4-3 – Leafs record in the past 20 games.

Special Teams Capsule

PP: 0-2
Season: 20.8% (7th)

PK: 4-4
Season: 78.7% (28th)

Quote of the Night

“It was like there was one puck and they had. We didn't have a chance to play with it much. That gets frustrating for everybody.”

-Randy Carlyle, following the loss to San Jose.

Up Next

Jonathan Bernier visits his former L.A. confines when the Leafs visit the Kings on Thursday in the third game of a five-game swing.

Brent Burns Joe Pavelski (Photo: Don Smith/NHLI via Getty Images)

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(Photo: Don Smith/NHLI via Getty Images)
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