TORONTO – In the moments after one of their most lopsided defeats of the season, the Leafs assembled for a closed-door team meeting, presumably to piece through the wreckage of what had just transpired and look forward to the road ahead.
"It's not something that we really discuss," John-Michael Liles said of the meeting in conversation with TSN.ca after the game. "We just didn't play very well. I think it's a matter of refocusing, coming back to work at practice, and just getting back to where we were with our game-plan and sticking to it."
Liles and the Leafs suffered their third consecutive loss in embarrassing fashion on Saturday night, falling 5-0 to Carey Price (32 saves) and the Canadiens on Mats Sundin night at the Air Canada Centre.
Concrete knowledge of the stakes at hand – the increasingly compressed playoff race and their fragile state in it – did little to jolt the waters of a suddenly skidding club.
Missing the necessary patience required against a trapping team, the Leafs were bottled up offensively – especially after the opening goal by Erik Cole – generally lacking in desperation for the task at hand.
An off-night from James Reimer – four goals on 15 shots – didn't help matters either.
"It's not from a lack of urgency or a lack of not knowing where we're at," Dion Phaneuf said firmly following the game. "We just didn't play well. I don't think there's much more that needs to be said than we didn't play well, we didn't play well enough to win. And it's disappointing in the way that the standings are at, where we're at in the standings to come out and not play our best."
"Just a bad night for us altogether," Joffrey Lupul added. "No real reason why, no excuse, nothing, just didn't come to play and it was pretty much up and down the entire lineup and I'm not sure why. Everything felt good before the game. Everyone seemed ready to go."
The Leafs remain tentatively in a playoff position – eighth in the East with 62 points – with a three-game road trip through western Canada lying ahead, beginning in Calgary on Tuesday night.
"We've done a lot of hard work to get to where we're at and we've let it slip a little bit here in the last week," Phaneuf concluded. "We're going to have to grab it and have the right attitude and move forward and that's what we're going to do. We're not going to sit here and feel sorry for ourselves. We're not going to sit here and get down on ourselves because we're confident in the group that we have."
1. Cole opened the scoring early in the second with a squeaker five-hole past Reimer, a shaky goal which lifted momentum in the Canadiens favour, also aiding their efforts to clog up the neutral zone. "The first goal was probably a stoppable shot," Leafs head coach Ron Wilson said following the game. "And you get down to a team that wants to play everybody back and rob your speed and the kind of game we like to play. The first goal was critical and we talked about that. It wasn't a good goal to give up and bad things happened after that."
2. Reimer dropped just his second game at home in regulation this season (8-2-3), replaced by Jonas Gustavsson after the second period. "At the end, Carey Price made all the stops and we didn't get very many so it made for a difficult night," Wilson said. After three straight wins, Reimer has dropped a pair, yielding eight goals on 54 shots. The Leafs are searching for an appropriate goaltending rotation with a busy schedule ahead, now likely to turn to Gustavsson when they visit the Flames on Tuesday. Gustavsson rebounded from a shaky start in Winnipeg on Tuesday night to make 27 saves in a 2-1 loss to the Jets. The 27-year-old was very effective in January, posting a 7-3-1 record with a 2.08 goals against average, .926 save percentage along with three shutouts.
3. The once-dominant Leaf powerplay continued to misfire on Saturday night, empty in five opportunities opposite the league's top-ranked penalty kill. The unit is now 5-44 over the last 14 games (11 per cent). The Leaf penalty kill meanwhile, surrendered its first goal of the New Year on Max Paciorretty's marker, snapping a stretch of 17 consecutive games.
4. Not really without question in the loss was the effort of the fourth line, which included Mike Brown, Dave Steckel and Darryl Boyce. "They played the game that we needed from everybody," Wilson said. "That was the one line that executed because they go in with a simple game-plan, 'We're just going to chip it in and forecheck, get a few hits and get pucks to the net' and they did a pretty good job of that." As Wilson noted after the game, the unit also offered almost all of the team's physicality. The trio combined for 14 of 19 hits from Leaf forwards: Brown (7), Steckel (4), and Boyce (3).
5. Boyce replaced Colby Armstrong in the lineup, Wilson searching for more speed and physicality. "I thought Boycer was excellent," he said, "finished all his checks, got pucks in. That was our best line in terms of where the puck was and what their responsibilities were and what they did." The move was nonetheless surprising considering the veteran status and dressing room presence of Armstrong, who had never sat before as a healthy scratch in Toronto.
The Leafs have dropped the last two meetings with Montreal after winning the first two ... Tim Connolly went his 16th consecutive game without a goal and has just one in the last 26. "He's struggling out there and that's something we've got to figure out," Wilson said ... The Leafs dropped to 16-9-4 at home ... Mike Komisarek was a healthy scratch for the sixth consecutive game and eighth time this season ... Steckel finished 9-for-11 (82 per cent) in the faceoff circle ... Phil Kessel, Tyler Bozak and Joffrey Lupul all had four-game point streaks come to an end ... This was the third time the Leafs have been shutout this season.