Here are five takeaways from the Maple Leafs’ 1-0 overtime loss to the Carolina Hurricanes Thursday at Air Canada Centre:
Late-game sag costs Toronto the extra point.
The Leafs were competitive with the Hurricanes for most of the evening, but the longer the game went on, the sloppier Toronto got – and halfway through the overtime period, they were on their heels and dependent on goalie James Reimer to give them a chance to win. The Buds did have a handful of excellent scoring opportunities that were denied by Canes goalie Eddie Lack, but Carolina was solid at collapsing around their netminder and Toronto couldn’t get enough quality chances to truly tax Lack and wear him out for the extra frame.
This was the epitome of a mid-season game.
The game won’t go down in history as one of the most thrilling in Air Canada Centre history. Both teams approached their opponent tentatively as the night began, fired an almost equal amount of shots at one another (Toronto held a 25-22 advantage after 40 minutes of play), and needed some help from their goalies to keep the other side off the scoresheet. In an 82-game regular season, it’s impossible for any team to be at its peak, and what we saw Thursday was two squads who played as safe a game as they could.
Reimer's rarely, if ever, been better.
In turning aside 39 Hurricanes shots in the game – including 14 in the third period, when Toronto was out-shot 14-3 – Reimer was far and away the best Leafs player on the ice and is looking as poised and confident between the pipes as he has in his six-year NHL career. Despite missing most of December, he’s made a solid case for himself as the Buds’ most valuable player and deserved a better fate than the overtime loss.
Discipline an issue for Toronto.
The Leafs gave the Hurricanes four power play opportunities Thursday – including two on two separate minor penalties to captain Dion Phaneuf – and although their penalty kill unit was able to prevent the Canes from scoring on any of them, the Buds weren’t exactly pressured by the visiting team into taking them, as they were by the defending Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks last Friday. Carolina, meanwhile, only took two penalties – and both came in the first period, leaving Toronto’s power play units on the sidelines for much of the night. Special teams will continue to be a focus of the coaching staff, but you can’t improve the power play when you barely have any.
The sense of urgency needs to improve – especially considering who Toronto’s next opponent is.
The Leafs earned their third point in their past two games, but all in all, this was a step back – or at least, sideways – for them as they try and rebound from a five-game losing streak that ended with Tuesday’s win over Philadelphia. A similarly sloppy effort in Toronto’s next game – Saturday night against Montreal at the ACC – almost certainly will end without them even making it to overtime. The Canadiens are as desperate as any team in the NHL at the moment, and nothing less than a far crisper performance from the Buds will get them a victory.