Here are five takeaways from the Maple Leafs’ 4-3 loss to the Calgary Flames Tuesday at Scotiabank Saddledome:
Special teams lapses hurt Leafs early.
Playing their first game without former captain Dion Phaneuf, the Leafs kept Calgary off the scoresheet through the first half of the opening period, but handed the Flames two goals and the lead in the second half of the frame. The first came on a shorthanded goal from Markus Granlund at the 10:40 mark; the second was a power play cash-in by Mikael Backlund with 1:57 left in the first. We’ve said it numerous times in this column this season, but it bears repeating: NHL games can easily be won or lost based on special teams play, and two special teams goals-against – especially when they come in the same period – can often prove too much to recover from.
Buds didn’t surrender.
Leafs centre Peter Holland tipped in a Frank Corrado point shot less than a minute after Granlund scored to record his eighth goal of the season and keep the Buds within a one-goal range of Calgary after the first period. And although the home team added goals from Micheal Ferland and Dougie Hamilton in the middle frame to pad its lead to 4-1, Toronto got a late goal in the period from AHL call-up Josh Leivo – Leivo’s first NHL goal in five games this season, and the third of his NHL career in 21 games – as well as a beautiful third-period marker from Jake Gardiner (his fourth of the year) while holding Calgary scoreless for the final 35 minutes. The Leafs pressured the Flames the rest of regulation time and outshot them 36-22 overall, but couldn’t beat netminder Jonas Hiller to send it to overtime. However, unlike the case in Ottawa Saturday, there was no absence of effort for them on this night.
Jake Gardiner stepping up without his former partner.
Gardiner’s goal was one indication of his stellar play Tuesday – his first game without longtime defensive partner Phaneuf – and another was his team-best 24:59 of ice time. Head coach Mike Babcock now uses him in a pairing with veteran Roman Polak, and because Polak is more of a stay-at-home type of blueliner, Gardiner looked more ready and willing to jump into the rush, and his end-to-end dazzling goal was an example of what he can do when he’s engaged with the play. He’ll no doubt miss Phaneuf on a personal level, but the trade is giving Gardiner a fantastic opportunity to raise his game and take on a bigger role with the organization.
Not Martin Marincin’s best game.
The domino effect of the Phaneuf trade meant that Marincin started out against Calgary paired up with Corrado, but Marincin made a number of miscues early on and Babcock limited his time on ice to just 9:54. This isn’t to say Toronto lost the game because of any one player, but if you’re looking for a candidate to come out of the lineup in favor of newly-acquired D-man Jared Cowen when the Leafs play Thursday night against Edmonton, Marincin may be it.
Injury bug is biting Leafs especially hard.
While it’s true Toronto will have more help on hand for their next game via the Sens trade, their roster – which is currently missing injured veteran James van Riemdsyk, Tyler Bozak, Shawn Matthias, Joffrey Lupul – is as depleted as it’s been this season. The desperate Oilers won’t ease up on them, meaning the talent on hand will need to scratch and claw their way to goals and wins more than ever before.