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Siegel: Leaf win streak ends with a 'thud' in Big D

Jonas Siegel
1/24/2014 9:18:55 AM
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DALLAS – Standing behind the visitors' bench at the American Airlines Center as his team was being pummeled, Randy Carlyle muttered under his breath some of the frustration and disappointment that goes hand in hand with such a thoroughly one-sided defeat.

"It gets passed a point of mad and frustration," said Carlyle, bearing the look of a baffled head coach. "It just gets to a point of disappointment and 'what the heck is going on out there'. Those are the things that bring you back to Earth in a hurry.

"This is the thud."

Toronto hadn't won seven straight in more than 10 years. Thumped 7-1 by Jamie Benn and the Stars in Big D on Thursday night, they'll have to wait at least a little longer to do it once more.

The Stars exploded for four goals in an imbalanced middle frame – Benn with a pair of assists – wrestling complete control of a tilt that featured on a whole lot of ills from the visiting hockey club, including a host of turnovers and slew of lost battles.

"We didn't really have anything going for a good part of the hockey game," said Carlyle. "We turned the puck over. We didn't make strong plays. We looked like we were a step behind the Dallas hockey club tonight. They skated and we didn't."

Considering their recent string of success – the longest win streak by the club in more than seven years – the lacklustre effort seemed to come out of nowhere and was more in line with much of the disappointment and inconsistency that plagued the season's first half.

"It might help put us back down to even-keel here," said Tyler Bozak afterward. "We were pretty confident and maybe a little overconfident after that win streak we had."

"It's the management of success as well as well as management when you're not having success of how to remain on an even-keel," Carlyle said. "Obviously we didn't do a very good job of that in our performance tonight."

All the elements that flourished so prominently during the six-game win streak disappeared in a hurry.

The goaltending had a rare off-night. The previously scorching top line was silent and burned often on the other end. And the power-play, so prominent in the past week and really all season, was a large negative, empty in three attempts with a shorthanded goal against.

Blown out in Carolina two weeks ago to the day, the Leafs responded with some of their best hockey, eventually rallying with this most recent win streak. They'll be looking for more of the same when they visit the suddenly resurgent Jets to conclude the road trip on Saturday.

"We've got to find a way to pick ourselves back up because we can't let this linger with our group," Carlyle concluded.

Five Points

1. Rare Off-Night in Goal

Between Jonathan Bernier and James Reimer, goaltending has been a strong point for the Leafs all season and more recently during the six-game win streak. But on this night that elite level of performance was nowhere to be found (though they lacked much help).

Bernier was bounced for just the second time all season following the third Dallas goal – 13 shots – a redirected Benn point blast that snuck through the five-hole of the 25-year-old. He was replaced by Reimer, who fared no better, yielding four more goals on just 15 shots.

"I think they fit in with the rest of our team," said Carlyle of the goaltenders. "I'm not going to throw those guys [under the bus] any more than the rest of the group. We just didn't have anything going. We just didn't have it."

Leaf goaltenders owned an impressive .932 save percentage during the six-game run, but were hammered for seven goals on 28 shots against the Stars.

2. Top Line Finally Silenced

The trio of Phil Kessel, James van Riemsdyk and Tyler Bozak combined for 12 goals and 25 points during the win streak, but they were completely silenced in Dallas. The line failed to generate much of anything against the Stars – combining for just four shots – while also being burned for four goals against on the other end.

"We weren't skating. We weren't winning battles. We were getting outsmarted pretty much all over the ice," said Bozak. "Especially our line – we were terrible. They outplayed us in every facet of the game. It's just one that we've got to put behind us."

Prior to the game, Carlyle described their recent success as more expectation than surprise.

"Check the size of their pay cheque," said Carlyle with good humour. "Aren't they supposed to do that? That's what they're paid to do. That's the bottom line. The reality of it is they are paid to provide offence and I guess they're doing their job."

Kessel's potent seven-game point streak was snapped in the loss. He had six goals and 14 points in that span, but was held to two shots on Thursday.

3. Lupul at LW

After residing on the right wing for the better part of a month – mostly due to injuries – Joffrey Lupul has, in recent days, returned to his more comfortable left wing. Lupul spent the past three seasons on the left side, moved there at the request of former Leafs head coach Ron Wilson.

Randy Carlyle noted Thursday morning that Lupul "seems to be much more comfortable on the left side than the right side". The reasons why, as explained by Lupul himself, start in the defensive zone.

"I'm better in my own zone for sure," he told the Leaf Report on Thursday morning. "I find it easier to get the puck out on the wall – which a lot of guys don't. I don't why necessarily I do, [but] I find it easier to protect the puck and play better in my own end."

Additionally, the 29-year-old believes he is a more dynamic threat offensively streaking down his off-wing. "I think I'm a much better passer off the left side," said Lupul. "[Playing there] just gives me a chance to use my body again to protect the puck whereas on the right wing I feel like I'm kind of skating with the puck exposed and it can get knocked off a lot. And it just gives me a chance to buy myself that extra second, whether it be to shoot or to pass."

4. Wrong Direction

He's unquestionably been felled by some particularly rough outings from his teammates, but Reimer's season has gradually turned in the wrong direction just as Bernier has clutched hold of the crease.

The 25-year-old burst out of the gate with a .949 save percentage in October, but has trended downward ever since. Reimer has started three games in January, while stepping in for Bernier in two others, owning an unflattering .875 save mark in the opening month of 2014.

Month

Save Percentage

October

.949

November

.916

December

.909

January

.875

5. Clarkson & Other Injury Updates

Missing his fourth consecutive game with an elbow injury, David Clarkson isn't due to return to the Toronto lineup until next week. Clarkson had been playing with an infection in his elbow since December and required minor surgery last week to alleviate the issue.

Frazer McLaren meanwhile, out the past five games with a bruised shoulder, was due to meet the team in Winnipeg on Friday. Trevor Smith, sidelined since the middle of December with a broken right hand, is expected to start skating with his teammates next week.

Stats-Pack

4 – Goals scored against the Leafs top line on Thursday.

2 – Number of times in 32 starts that Jonathan Bernier has been pulled this season.

7-14-2 – Leafs record when failing to score the first goal.

2 – Number of games this season in which the Leafs have allowed seven goals.
 
.750 – Save percentage for the goaltending duo of Bernier and Reimer against the Stars.

11-8-1 – Leafs record versus the Western Conference this season.

Special Teams Capsule

PP: 0-3
Season: 22.5% (4th)

PK: 1-2
Season: 77.5% (28th)

Quote of the Night

"This is the thud."

-Randy Carlyle, on being brought back to Earth in Dallas.

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The Leafs conclude their four-game road trip in Winnipeg on Saturday night.

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