Here are five takeaways from the Maple Leafs’ 4-0 loss to the Ottawa Senators Saturday at Canadian Tire Centre:
Power (play) failure a familiar pattern for Leafs.
Toronto entered the tilt with the division-rival Sens with the NHL’s second-worst power play, so when they failed to score on any of their four man-advantages – including three in the first period – regular observers of the team weren’t surprised.
Yes, you can point to the fact the Leafs’ lineup is ravaged by injury and many of their veterans who help comprise one of their PP units – including Tyler Bozak, James van Riemsdyk and Joffrey Lupul – are on the sidelines and unable to contribute, but the fact the Buds only managed four shots in total on the power play Saturday speaks to a general inability to create quality scoring chances. When you’re up against a stellar netminder such as Craig Anderson, that’s going to severely hamper your odds of winning the game.
Sens didn’t get much rubber on net, but made the most of the chances Toronto gave them.
The Senators scored a goal in each of the first two periods (on markers from Mika Zibanejad and Cody Ceci) and two in the third (from Zack Smith and Mark Stone) – but got just 17 shots on Leafs goalie Garret Sparks through 60 minutes of play, including four in the final frame. It wasn’t Sparks’ best performance between the pipes, but there were a number of breakdowns in front of him – it also wasn’t Jake Gardiner’s ideal game – and, most importantly, he got nothing in the way of support on offence.
Ottawa, on the other hand, got a typically solid showing from Anderson as they try to gain ground in the chase for a wild card playoff berth, and their scorers did the damage they needed to in order to win. In a nutshell, that was the story of this contest.
Valiev the latest young Leafs prospect to make his NHL debut.
When he took to the ice Saturday, blueliner Rinat Valiev became the ninth Toronto prospect to play his first NHL game this season. The 20-year-old, drafted in the third round (68th overall) by the Leafs in 2014, was eased into the action, logging 14:23 of ice time and recording one shot on net and two hits.
The Russian D-man didn’t turn heads or drop jaws in his debut, but considering this is his first year of professional hockey – he amassed three goals and 21 points in 54 games with the AHL Marlies this season after spending the previous two years with Kootenay of the Western League – he didn’t look like he was in over his head, either. That’s an indication of the work Marlies coach Sheldon Keefe and his staff have done with Valiev, and with the Leafs’ defence corps needing all the healthy bodies it can get in the team’s final 15 games, Valiev could see more action in the sport’s top league before the 2015-16 campaign concludes.
Michalek’s first game against his old squad an uneventful affair.
Winger Milan Michalek was still recovering from injury when Toronto took on Ottawa March 5, so Saturday was his first opportunity to skate against the team with which he spent the last five-plus seasons.
The 31-year-old was on the ice for only 13:30 – considerably less than the nearly 17 minutes a night he averaged with the Sens this year. But the Czech native played 3:13 on the power play and, once he uses the rest of this season to work himself back into game shape (after missing approximately six weeks with a broken finger), he’ll have a chance to establish himself as an important component of the Leafs’ offence next year.
No rest for battered Buds as second half of back-to-back comes quickly.
Toronto dropped both games they played against Ottawa in the past week, but won’t get any time to regroup – they play the always-competitive Detroit Red Wings Sunday night at Joe Louis Arena – and will need a better overall effort to defeat an opponent that, like the Sens, are in a battle for a spot in the post-season.
Head coach Mike Babcock confirmed Friday that Jonathan Bernier would get the start in net in the second game of the back-to-back contests, and he’ll need to be sharp to get the ‘W’ against a Wings squad that beat the Rangers Saturday in overtime. No other franchise is feeling sorry for the Buds, who are in position to play spoiler. But nothing less than a smart, simple, consistent performance will allow them to do that job.