Here are five takeaways from the Maple Leafs’ 5-1 loss to the Florida Panthers Tuesday at BB&T Center:
Another slow start to the game for the Leafs, but a different result.
The Leafs have had difficulty coming out of the gate for too many games this season, and Tuesday wasn’t any different, as they didn’t register their first shot on net until 13 minutes into the first period and managed only four shots overall in the first 20 minutes of play. However, goalie James Reimer turned aside all seven Panthers shots in the frame, and a late goal from Nazem Kadri gave Toronto the game’s first lead heading into the first intermission. That said, the Buds’ tentativeness to begin games has to remain a concern for head coach Mike Babcock and his staff.
Special teams still aren’t special enough.
The Leafs’ penalty killing unit had been sharp in the two games prior to Tuesday’s tilt, preventing opponents from scoring on all eight power play chances Toronto gave them. But that ended quickly against the Panthers, as the Buds gave up three man advantages through the first 30 minutes of the game – and five through the first two periods – and Florida scored its first two goals on the power play to erase the visiting team’s lead in the second period and take control of the contest. The Panthers had the league’s second-worst power play entering the game, but if you give any NHL team that many opportunities, you’ll likely come to regret it, and the Leafs did so on this night.
Toronto’s offense is sputtering.
Toronto began the month of January by posting back-to-back four-goal games (and wins) over the Blues and Ducks, but since then, they’ve scored three or more goals just once in nine games, including Tuesday’s loss. Buds goalies Reimer and Jonathan Bernier have kept the team in games far more often than not, but this wasn’t Reimer’s sharpest night – his modern-day team record of 18 straight games allowing three goals or fewer was snapped Tuesday – and with injured winger James van Riemsdyk weeks away from returning to the lineup, the Leafs’ offence isn’t producing nearly enough to support the netminders.
No love lost between Atlantic Division rivals.
The score in this game got out of hand nearly four minutes into the third period when Reilly Smith scored his 16th of the season to make it 4-1 for Florida, but emotions spiked well before that, with two Leafs – forward Peter Holland and captain Dion Phaneuf – engaging in fisticuffs (with Aaron Ekblad and Dmitry Kulikov, respectively). This was the first meeting of the year between the two teams, but they’ve got three more games against each other – including a March 17 game at Air Canada Centre – and there’s nothing to suggest they’ll become friendlier when next they meet.
Divisional games haven’t gone Toronto’s way at all.
The loss to the Panthers was Toronto’s 12th of the year (0-6-6) in intra-divisional play this season – and, in a league that places an emphasis on divisional battles, that’s a regrettable mark, to say the least. The Leafs can earn their first win over an Atlantic opponent Wednesday when they take on the Lightning in Tampa Bay, but the Bolts are arguably the NHL’s hottest team (8-2-0 in their past 10 games), so it won’t be easy for the Buds to head into the All-Star break with a victory.