OTTAWA – In the end the Leafs were dealt the fate they deserved.
A chance to snatch at least a point, in a spotty road performance, ended as an empty 3-2 loss, given away with 24 seconds left in regulation. “Obviously it's disappointing,” said Clarke MacArthur afterward. “We didn't deserve to win that game though … as far as 60 minutes go we didn't deserve points in that game.”
Colin Greening snatched it away for the Senators with less than half a minute to go in the final frame, outmuscling Leaf defenders Carl Gunnarsson and Mike Kostka in front before batting a puck past Ben Scrivens for the winner. “We had a chance to grab at least one point and we screwed up the last minute,” Gunnarsson said.
It was the culmination of an error-filled and generally unfocused effort at ScotiaBank Place; one that saw the Leafs still with an opportunity to win the game. MacArthur had knotted the score at two on a power-play early in the third frame before the fatal slip-up erased any chance at points, the final judgment ultimately deserved on this night. “I think if we look back we probably didn't compete like we wanted to for the first couple of periods and we hit the gas for the third and were able to tie it up,” said Kostka.
Rather than grind it out with a simple (and yet effective) chip-and-chase game, the Leafs turned pucks over regularly and were unable to impose a forecheck, thus doing little to sustain any offensive zone pressure, all against an inexperienced Ottawa club that was prominently missing Norris Trophy winner Erik Karlsson and Craig Anderson, he of a .952 save percentage this season. “We were a little negligent in some of the things that we would like to do too,” head coach Randy Carlyle said afterward. “I think we gave the point away. I don't know how you can describe it any other way.”
1. Personnel decisions on the game-winning goal
Carlyle's choice of personnel on the deciding play is worth some dissection. His five on the critical defensive zone faceoff included Gunnarsson, Kostka, Mikhail Grabovski, Jay McClement and Nik Kulemin. The line in question is of no surprise; Grabovski, McClement and Kulemin are more or less the best defensive forwards and comprise the team's shutdown unit. But the absence of the Leafs go-to faceoff man, Tyler Bozak, is surprising. In Carlyle's defence, Bozak was having only an average night on the draw (53%), had lost four of seven in the third period and was on the ice the previous shift. Grabovski by comparison, was at 7-15 (46%) before the final lost draw and had beaten Mika Zibanejad (his opponent) in their only previous meeting.
More curious than Bozak, however, was the absence of Dion Phaneuf, the Leafs primary shutdown defender and minutes leader again (26:17) on Saturday night. Like Bozak, Phaneuf had been on the ice the previous shift. Carlyle did have a timeout at his disposal though if he wanted to give his captain (or top faceoff man) a breather. Had they won the draw, blocked a shot or gotten a save, the discussion would be moot, but because a series of mistakes culminated in a goal, the personnel decisions are worthy of some thought.
2. Breaking down the game-winning goal
The first decision that did not please Carlyle in the lead-up to the final goal was Scrivens' choice to freeze the puck on the previous play, leading to the ultimately fatal defensive zone faceoff. “We should've continued to play,” he said.
Grabovski then lost the draw, more or less cleanly to Zibanejad, who dropped it to Patrick Wiercioch, who was then able to fire a point shot cleanly at Scrivens. “Me being the left winger, I've got to try to block the shot,” McClement noted.
Slow to react to the rebound, Gunnarsson was beaten to the puck by Greening, who proceeded to swat it past Scrivens. “They were just harder [than], in this case me, in front of the net," Gunnarsson said. "I lost the battle and then he tapped it in mid-air.”
“Those are assignments that cannot and will not allow you have to success,” Carlyle concluded. “Those are critical times.”
3. Fundamental flaw
So critical to establishing the grinding offensive game they wish to impose, an absent forecheck is usually among the first ingredients to disappear when the Leafs stray from success. Like their previous loss in Tampa earlier in the week, such was the case for the better part of two periods on Saturday. “We didn't seem like we had a whole lot of pressure,” McClement said of the forecheck. “It seemed like we had one chance and no sustained pressure. They were breaking out and they're a good transition team and that's how they scored the first two goals.”
By the third period, the Leafs began to sustain pressure in spurts. The fourth line, interestingly enough – Dave Steckel more specifically – drew the holding penalty on Eric Gryba, which led to MacArthur's game-tying goal.
4. Road record
After winning seven of their first nine away from the Air Canada Centre, the Leafs have now dropped two in a row on the road, both disappointing performances in losses to the Lightning and Senators. Their record on the road now stands at 7-4-0.
5. Gunnarsson's performance
Carl Gunnarsson played just 18:36 against the Senators, his lowest since returning from a hip injury last week. Said Carlyle of the 26-year-old before the game, “He hasn't missed a beat really … We feel that Gunnar's one of those guys that he's not a real flashy player, but a very effective player and he makes a huge contribution to our back end.”
Typically the Leafs quietest and most reliable defender, Gunnarsson struggled on Saturday. In addition to his blown assignment on the game-winning goal from Greening, he was also beaten to the front of the net on the Senators first goal, a tip-in by Zibanejad. Of note, Gunnarsson is playing through the injury from which he missed eight games earlier this month.
Quote of the Night
“I think we gave the point away. I don't know how you can describe it any other way.”
-Randy Carlyle, on the last minute loss.
Quote of the Night II
“You've got to try and find a way to get to OT and get a point, but as far as 60 minutes go we didn't deserve points in that game.”
-Clarke MacArthur, also on the last minute loss.
Quote of the Night III
“We have our share too; we just haven't made as big a splash about our share of injuries I guess. Our media isn't allowed to do that I guess.”
- Carlyle, addressing the Senators injury situation.
24.4% – Leaf power play on the road this season (10 goals – 41 opportunities), good for sixth best in the NHL.
49: Total games Leafs have lost to injury this season.
16:35 – Mike Kostka, his lowest total of the season.
Total Games Lost This Season: 49
The Leafs conclude a brief two-game road trip with a visit to Philadelphia.