TORONTO – Standing just outside the Toronto Maple Leafs dressing room after yet another defeat in the shootout, James Reimer slammed his right hand against a door in an unusual show of frustration.
"It really sucks for a goalie when you lose," he said a few minutes later. Two pucks found their way behind Reimer in a 3-2 shootout defeat to the Bruins on Monday night.
The Leafs have yet to win in the shootout this season, falling for the fourth time at TD Garden on Monday night. While they emerged from a home and home set with Boston clutching three important points – they sit sixth in the East with 38 points – there's an argument to be made that all four were there for the taking – shootout notwithstanding.
The 25-year-old in goal shouldered the weight of the shootout decision again afterward, but it's increasingly difficult to assign blame entirely his way. The fact is, Tyler Bozak remains the only Leaf to actually score in the shootout this season; he is now 3-4 after another successful attempt on Monday night.
Collectively, Toronto shooters now rank third-worst in the shootout this year (3-21, 14.3 per cent), with the 10 candidates besides Bozak now empty in all 17 attempts.
"The shootout seems to be a big thorn in our side right now," Leafs coach Randy Carlyle acknowledged afterward. "We do work on it and we do provide video of what the opposition likes to do, what their goaltenders are like. But again, it's an individual thing, it's 1-on-1, player versus another player, all you can really do is provide the information that you think is important to the situation and that's what we try to do. And then we try to work on it with our own guys and our own goaltenders."
"I don't know exactly what it is. I feel like every single time I'm going down I have the goaltender beat, it's just a matter of elevating [the puck] a couple more inches or just being a little more patient, but I feel like I'm making the right moves."
Reimer meanwhile dropped to 3-8 lifetime in the shootout after yielding goals to Tyler Seguin and Patrice Bergeron. His career. 650 save percentage is actually middle of the pack among active goaltenders. However, the 25-year-old has posted a .619 mark on 21 shots this season which ranks 14th out of the 21 goaltenders who have faced at least 10 attempts.
"You know you take it for what it is," he said. "Obviously you want to win it and it sucks when you lose."
The Leafs have tried to maintain an even approach as it pertains to the shootout, but they can't help but be frustrated by the points they've failed to snatch as a result of it. In a playoff race that will only tighten in the coming weeks, those points are all too important to keep losing.
"We can't focus on the negative of losing the point tonight," Carlyle said. "We don't want to get too low on the shootouts or too high when we win them."
1. Lost leads, missed opportunities
The Leafs held a lead of 2-0 which evaporated amid a valliant Boston pushback.
Joffrey Lupul (power-play) and Nik Kulemin scored six minutes apart in the middle frame to put the Leafs in front by a deceptively safe margin. It was less than two minutes after the Kulemin goal that Milan Lucic broke free of Cody Franson and Ryan Hamilton to score the Bruins' first goal, cutting the deficit quickly in half. The Leafs proceeded to come up dry with two critical opportunities on the man advantage, one with Dennis Seidenberg in the box towards the end of the second, another early in the third with Patrice Bergeron whistled off. "Our unit tonight just wasn't running on the same ropes I guess you could say," Franson explained of a unit that also includes Dion Phaneuf, Phil Kessel, James van Riemsdyk and Tyler Bozak, quick to note his own struggles with the puck firstly.
It was about eight minutes after the unpunished Bergeron infraction that the same Bruins pivot knotted the score at two, the resulting shootout frustration detailed above.
Grasping three of a possible four points against a team of the Bruins caliber is admirable, but lost leads and missed opportunities cannot be ignored. "We know the mistakes we made and we know what bit us," Franson said. "I think we have to be able to sharpen that up for Florida."
2. Kessel vs. Chara
A fact that speaks to the dominance of Zdeno Chara over his former teammate: Phil Kessel has yet to score an even-strength goal against in 22 games against his former team. The 25-year-old has managed only three career markers against the Bruins, all three coming on the man advantage.
Bruins coach Claude Julien is rightfully obsessive in launching his six-foot-nine goliath on Kessel, manically deploying him anytime Kessel is on the ice, home or away. "That's their mandate," Carlyle said. "They make no bones about it. Every time that [Kessel line is] on the ice, they'll change one D just to make sure [Chara's] out there … that's part of star players in the league having to play against the best players in the league."
3. JVR Cold spell
His Leafs career took off with a bang; 11 goals in the first 18 games this season. But since that point, James van Riemsdyk has cooled off in the goal-sniping department socring just three goals in the past 15 games and none in the past six, a season-long dry spell. "Try to stick with it," said van Riemsdyk prior to Monday's game, who also has just four assists since February 21st. "I think I've been doing some good things and some times you just don't get the puck luck. I think I'm continuing to go to the areas where you get the goals at, it's just a matter of maybe getting a bounce or having a puck sit there a couple inches closer and maybe you don't hit a pipe and it goes in and things look a little different." van Riemsdyk may not be far off as far as ‘puck luck' is concerned. Through the opening two months, the 23-year-old was firing at an inflated 17 per cent clip, far above his three-year career average of 10 per cent. In the month of March, he has dipped to about 8 per cent, meaning some leveling out is likely if his game ramps up to the level it had been previously.
van Riemsdyk failed to land a shot against the Bruins on Monday and was benched for the final 10 minutes of the third period and all of overtime. "I think JVR has got some work to do in some areas," Carlyle said of his younger winger, who still logged 18-plus minutes. "He's been a great player for us but I think he's in a little bit of a dry spell for us right now. We need him to get his feet moving and start to create more."
4. Igniting Kulemin
One shining testament to Nazem Kadri this season has been his ability to make others better. From Matt Frattin to Clarke MacArthur, Kadri has helped improve the performance of every player he's played with. There is perhaps no better example of this than with Nik Kulemin. Kulemin has tallied a point in four of the five games in which he has played alongside Kadri, with three goals in that brief span. "He's a good player," Kulemin said of Kadri, who found him open for a breakaway goal against the Bruins. "He sees the rink very well and passes it at the right time."
The 26-year-old Kulemin added of his recent return to goal-scoring prowess (now with five this season), "I think I just started shooting more and I have more opportunities to shoot because Naz has a lot of attention on him."
5. Kadri on the draw
One element of Kadri's game that will continue to be tested as his responsibilities increase is his work on the draw. Squaring off against the league's top faceoff team on Monday, the 22-year-old finished with just four wins on 18 tries, including a 3-for-14 showing against Bergeron, the top faceoff man in the league this season (62%). "He's just a smart guy," Kadri said of Bergeron. "He's strong on his stick and even sometimes when you're looking just to tie up his stick and make it a foot-battle it seems like he's always winning those as well."
Quote of the Night
"It really sucks for a goalie when you lose."
-James Reimer, on the shootout.
Quote of the Night II
"I think I'm just saving them all for the game, I don't know exactly what it is."
-Nazem Kadri, on the team-wide struggles in the shootout.
14.3 per cent: Toronto's shooting percentage in the shootout (3-for-21).
3-for-4: Tyler Bozak in the shootout, the one Leaf to score this season.
0-for-17: Shooters excluding Bozak in the shootout.
0: Career even-strength goals for Phil Kessel against Boston.
26-for-70: Leafs on the draw versus the Bruins (37 per cent).
5-Game Point Streak: Kadri extended the streak with an assist on Kulemin's goal, now with 10 points total in that span (three goals, seven assists).
88-for-103: Leafs penalty kill this season, fifth overall on the year.
9-6-2: Toronto road record.
Last place in the Eastern Conference, the struggling Florida Panthers visit the Air Canada Centre on Tuesday for the second end of a Toronto back-to-back set.