Here are five takeaways from the Maple Leafs’ 1-0 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning Wednesday at Amalie Arena:
Another slow start for the Buds.
This is going to sound familiar, but the Leafs had issues finding their stride in the first period Wednesday. One night after taking nearly 12 minutes to register their first shot on net against the Panthers, Toronto needed more than 12 minutes to land a shot on Bolts goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy. For the second straight night, the Buds were outshot badly in the opening frame – this time, by a 17-6 margin – and were on their heels for the majority of the period. Consequently, the Leafs surrendered the first lead of the game – another too-common issue for this squad – and were unable to dig themselves out of the hole.
Leafs’ discipline continues to be a problem.
The Leafs gave Florida six power plays Tuesday (with the Panthers scoring on two of them), and the parade to the penalty box continued against Tampa Bay: Toronto was assessed three penalties in the first period and seven in the game, and the Bolts got a goal from captain Steven Stamkos on the first man advantage for the only offence of the night. The Buds failed to score on any of the three power plays they had Wednesday, and when you combine the performance of Toronto’s special teams, it’s not a surprise the end result wasn’t in their favor.
You can’t say Jonathan Bernier didn’t do his part.
The veteran Leafs goalie was beaten by a one-timer from Stamkos but was otherwise flawless, turning aside the remaining 28 Bolts shots he saw. In his past two games, Bernier has stopped 70 of 74 shots, and, other than an off-night (along with the rest of the team) against San Jose Jan. 9, he’s been stellar in a backup-type role behind James Reimer.
Toronto’s offense pushed, but couldn’t produce.
The Leafs outshot the Lightning 11-5 in the second period and 13-7 in the third, but couldn’t solve Vasilevskiy, who was outstanding between the pipes for the home team. Centre Nazem Kadri and defenseman Morgan Rielly combined for 12 of Toronto’s 30 shots, but nobody will remember that. All they’ll remember is the Buds combined for one goal in a two-game road trip prior to the All-Star break, and correctly note that simply isn’t good enough to expect wins.
The Leafs need to conserve all their energy during the All-Star break, because they’re right back into the fire next week.
The Leafs don’t have another game until Feb. 2, and they need to make the most of their down time – because their first showdown after the All-Star break is against the Bruins in Boston, followed by a tilt against New Jersey at the Air Canada Centre two nights later. Both of those opponents are battling for one of the final playoff berths in the Eastern Conference, meaning it won’t be easy to get back in the win column. And once they’re done taking on those two teams, Toronto heads out on a five-game road trip that takes them to Ottawa, Calgary, Edmonton, Vancouver and Chicago. If that sounds challenging, it is.