Here are five takeaways from the Maple Leafs’ 5-1 loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets Wednesday at Air Canada Centre:
Tentative start for both sides.
In the final home game of the season, the Leafs came out of the gate tentatively, managing just nine shots on Columbus goalie Sergei Bobrovsky. That said, the Blue Jackets were just as tentative, if not more so, registering only six shots on Toronto netminder Garret Sparks. That made for a quiet opening period, but the second and third periods were another story altogether.
“I thought we played pretty good early and got out to a lead,” said centre Tyler Bozak, “and a couple turnovers that we don’t need to make led to a couple goals (in the second). Then I just think we didn’t compete hard enough and we didn’t score on our opportunities.
Reilly’s shorthanded marker gives Toronto first lead – and marks a first for Gauthier.
The Leafs took their first penalty of the night 44 seconds into the second on a delay-of-game call on winger P-A Parenteau, but blueliner Morgan Rielly scored his ninth of the season halfway through Toronto’s PK to give the Buds a 1-0 advantage.
Rookie centre Frederik Gauthier recorded the primary assist – and his first NHL point – on Rielly’s goal. The lead lasted for approximately 10 minutes before Brandon Saad’s 29th goal of the year evened things up, but Gauthier (who was appearing in his fifth career NHL game) will likely remember the scoring sequence for some time.
Jackets go ahead with late second-period goal.
The Jackets gained momentum as the middle period continued on, and Brandon Dubinsky’s 16th of the season at the 17:31 mark gave the visiting Jackets their first lead Wednesday. Sparks hasn’t been at his best of late, but he didn’t receive much in the way of help from Toronto’s defenders on either Columbus goal.
“It just goes to show the importance of little things in the game,” centre Brooks Laich said. “I think there’s a lot of lessons to be learned tonight. The goals we gave up are correctable mistakes, and we just learned that small mistakes can lead to goals-against. We’re going to learn, we’re going to get better.”
Mid-third-period-push puts Columbus firmly in control.
The game was still up for grabs until the midway point of the third, when the Jackets broke out with three goals in four minutes to put them ahead by four. Again, this wasn’t a performance Sparks will look back on with pride, but the same can be said for the entire Leafs squad. The ACC crowd saluted the team with a farewell cheer, but the Leafs players and head coach Mike Babcock felt they were being charitable considering the effort.
“They were being kind to us, let’s not kid ourselves,” Babcock said. “There’s lots of good things that are going on in the organization, I think we all know that. But tonight wasn’t one of those things. That effort and the execution of that effort was not good enough, and it’s unacceptable.”
“We didn’t put in a good enough effort to deserve that tonight, that’s for sure,” added Bozak. “But (the fan response) was nice to hear, and I think people are excited about the future. They see a lot of talent and what these young guys can do. So it was nice of them to do that for us.”
Carrick makes season debut.
In a year where it felt as if a different Leafs player was making his debut with the team almost every game, forward Sam Carrick got his first taste of NHL action with Toronto Wednesday. The 24-year-old – who appeared in 16 games with the Buds last season, scoring a goal and two points – logged 11:47 of ice time against the Jackets. He’ll likely be back with the American League Marlies next week before their playoff run begins, but this call-up was a nice reward for Carrick.