VANCOUVER – A day that began dark, gloomy and full of rain finished that same way for the Leafs.
Not only did they suffer their worst defeat of the year -- shutout for the first time this season as a three-game winning streak came to an end -- they also lost Dave Bolland to a scary injury that will severely hamper the club at centre moving forward.
"Terrible game for us," said Randy Carlyle, outwardly peeved at his team's performance in a 4-0 loss to the Canucks on Saturday evening. "Probably the worst game we've played this year."
"That's probably not too far off of an assessment," James van Riemsdyk agreed, the dreadful effort coming exactly one week after the Leafs beat Pittsburgh in arguably their best game of the season.
Pounded in more ways than one early, often and throughout a dreary affair at Rogers Arena – they took 11 minor penalties – the Leafs were ultimately outshot 47-21. The third consecutive game they've yielded more than 40 and the 13th time in 15 games this season where they've managed fewer than their opponent.
"That's a theme and we're not happy about it," said Carlyle with frustration.
James Reimer was sharp early and kept the game close throughout, but even he could not withstand the constant barrage of Vancouver shots. The Canucks fired 18 in the first, 12 in the second and another 17 in the third. Reimer made 44 saves, following up a 43-save shutout in Edmonton earlier in the week.
It took eight minutes for the Leafs to land their first shot on goal – the shot clock at that point favouring the Canucks by an 11-0 margin and 1-0 lead. After some pushback late in the opening frame, the Leafs unraveled when Bolland went down on the second shift of middle period.
The 27-year-old was cut by the left skate of Zack Kassian deep in the defensive zone, left hobbling on the ice as the Vancouver forward scored his team's second goal. The Canucks would add a third marker just a short while later burying the Leafs for good in the third.
It was just three nights earlier, during the second leg of a three-game swing through western Canada, that the Leafs played poorly – outshot 43-22 – and yet managed a 4-2 victory, their third straight despite some underlying flaws.
A concerning theme throughout an ultimately successful start, which has seen the club outshot and often outplayed but held up by terrific goaltending, special teams and accurate shooting, Saturday's lopsided defeat was probably overdue.
"I don't know if I necessarily buy that," van Riemsdyk said. "Each game is a little bit different. Obviously you don't want to get outshot like that every game. We've got to find ways to improve upon that."
The wound is likely to sting for the next six days. The Leafs don't play again until Friday when they host the New Jersey Devils at the ACC.
1. Bolland injured
It was the left skate of Kassian that forced Bolland from Saturday's action and damaged the Leafs further down the middle. Kassian strode in to finish a check on the Leafs centre deep in the Toronto zone, his left skate rising to slice the left leg of his opponent.
Helped off the ice, Bolland eventually departed the arena on a stretcher and was due for immediate surgery to repair the laceration. Acquired from Chicago in the offseason, Bolland had been one of the team's better players to date this season, a jack of all trades for Carlyle. The Mimico, Ontario native had totaled six goals, ten points and was averaging 16-plus minutes per game in his first season in Toronto.
As noted further below, moving forward without Bolland will be a challenge, a further bit of adversity to a club that's faced a slew of injuries, in addition to a 10-game suspension for Clarkson, and yet managed to win.
"That's what good teams do," said Clarkson.
"I think it's something you can weather," Reimer added. "Winning in this league is all about competing and competing honestly. If you do those two things anybody can beat anyone. You look at some teams in the playoffs who are clearly not nearly as skilled as other teams and yet they find ways to win, why? Because they outwork them; they do little things right. It's a stupid cliché, but that's the way it is."
The Maple Leaf starters combined have already missed 43 games due to injury. They missed 91 all of last season (48 game-campaign).
2. Centre ice issues
Increasingly thin at centre, the Leafs move forward without their top two at the position. Sidelined the past four games with a lower-body injury, Tyler Bozak was placed on long-term injured reserve Saturday (lower-body) and won't be eligible to return until Nov. 21.
"I might start stretching," Nonis said with a laugh.
Experience at the position within the system is sparse. Signed to a professional tryout last month, the only Marlie with NHL experience is 34-year-old Jerred Smithson (588 games). Smithson spent most of his career with Nashville, playing 35 games with the Panthers last season and 10 more with the Oilers.
Playing centre at the University of New Hampshire but never in the NHL, van Riemsdyk manned the position at times in Saturday's loss. "Whatever they need me to do I'm more than willing to try," he said.
Though a move is highly unlikely, Phil Kessel too spent a brief game or two down the middle under Ron Wilson.
3. Accidental injury
The Bolland incident mirrored a similar collision last season between Senators defender Erik Karlsson and then-Penguins forward Matt Cooke. Unlike Ottawa owner Eugene Melnyk, Leafs general manager Dave Nonis refused to point a finger at Kassian.
"It would be hard for me to imagine how that was on purpose," Nonis said shortly after the game. "I guess it's possible, but I don't believe it. I don't think a player would try to do that."
His Achilles tendon partly sliced, Karlsson would miss ten weeks for the Senators. "I don't know the degree of severity or which tendon, but he did suffer a cut to that area," said Carlyle, recalling the Karlsson incident.
Back in Nov. 2011, the Leafs endured a similar injury to Dion Phaneuf. Weeks into his first season as captain, Phaneuf was cut by the skate of then-Senators forward Peter Regin. He would miss 16 games with a left leg laceration.
4. Reimer's fight
Under siege all night, Reimer managed to keep his team alive until the final hammer from Dan Hamhuis late in the third period. His efforts were most impressive during a furious Vancouver start. Having already turned down Mike Santorelli and Christopher Higgins on an odd-man rush, Reimer made the best save of the Leafs season. Moving left to right as the play developed, the 25-year-old extended his right leg out, his right skate keeping an Alex Burrows shot from crossing the goal-line.
"He had four feet to shoot at," said Reimer with some degree of pride. "Luckily he put it back and it got my skate. You've got to do that as a goaltender; you've got to compete, you've got to battle and you've got to try and stop the puck. Nine times out of ten you're not going to make that save, but today was the tenth one."
Making his first career start in the month of November (odd, but true), Reimer dropped his first decision of the season, now 4-1-0 on the year. He holds a .942 save percentage, good for third overall at the position.
5. Kessel Scrap
It was nearly four years ago that Phil Kessel last fought in the NHL. Kessel scrapped for the second time in his NHL career against the Canucks, trading attempted punches with Alex Burrows in the opening period. The 26-year-old fought Kris Russell in Columbus on Dec. 3, 2009.
47 – Shots for the Canucks, the most the Leafs have allowed all season.
54-27 – Shot attempt advantage for the Canucks at even-strength on Saturday.
36.8 – Average shots against the Leafs this season.
75- Minor penalties for the Leafs this season, most in the league. They took 11 on Saturday.
-10.7 – Shot differential between the Leafs and their opponents this season.
1st – NHL game for James Reimer in the month of November.
87.1 – Leaf penalty kill this season, good for fourth-best overall.
Special Teams Capsule
Quote of the Night
"Terrible game for us. Probably the worst game we've played this year."
-Randy Carlyle on his team's performance against Vancouver.
The Leafs wait six days before finally hosting the Devils on Friday.