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Leafs fall to Capitals at home

by Adam Proteau / Toronto Maple Leafs

It wasn’t the easiest of nights at the office for Maple Leafs goaltender Jonathan Bernier, who allowed four goals on 23 shots in Toronto’s 4-2 loss to the Washington Capitals at Air Canada Centre. And Leafs head coach Mike Babcock made it clear how difficult it is to win games when you surrender a certain number of goals in the tight-checking, modern-day NHL.

“We didn’t score enough for the amount we let in,” Babock said. “I guess the way I look at it is this: you can’t give up four (goals) in the National Hockey League and win. It’s just impossible.”

Bernier himself admitted to struggling with his game at the moment. In fairness, he’s had to overcome a lower-body injury and watched teammate James Reimer claim the No. 1 job in his absence, but the 27-year-old admitted this is a particularly difficult stretch for him.

“It’s been tough, but that’s hockey, and you’ve got to find a way to get out of it,” said Bernier, who was getting his first taste of NHL action since Nov. 15, when he and the Leafs lost 4-3 to the New York Rangers. “’I’ve got to be better. I can name a lot of guys that have been through (a slump). Probably one of the best everyone remembers – Patrick Roy – did it in Montreal. A lot of guys are going through this, and you’ve got to find a way on your own to get out of it.”

Babcock noted after the game that Bernier has been working on improving since the beginning of training camp, but hasn’t gotten back to where the team needs him to be.

“We’ve been going through this since the start of the year, right?” Babcock said of Bernier’s issues. “So I think we’ve done a lot of talking. The bottom line (for Bernier) is just get to work, work hard every day, compete real hard, listen to the goalie coach, and try to find your game.”

That said, Bernier’s teammates made it clear they weren’t pinning the loss on their man between the pipes, whose record on the year now stands at 0-8-1.

“I don’t think it’s fair to point fingers at anyone,” said Leafs captain Dion Phaneuf. “We’re a team, we play as a team, we win and have good nights as a team, and when we lose, obviously we had an off night and we do that together. I don’t think it’s fair by anyone to point at Bernie. He made some saves for us when we needed them, and like I said, I made a mistake on the first (goal), give up a 2-on-1 and it put us behind the eight-ball early.”

It wasn’t all bad news for the Leafs, who outshot the high-octane Caps offense by a whopping 16-4 margin in the first period and 34-23 on the night. Toronto also won 31 of 60 faceoffs, but their penalty kill gave up goals on two of three Caps power plays, and that wound up being the difference in the contest.

“We were in control of it,” Phaneuf said of the game. “We seemed to have a decent start after they scored first and we responded really well. We just kind of shot ourselves in the foot by giving them some momentum on the power play, and we couldn’t claw our way back. We dug too deep a hole, and when you give opportunities to a team that’s got that much firepower, they’ll make you pay, and that’s what happened tonight.”

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