This was always going to be a difficult trip, but the tough part ultimately ended up being the promise the Toronto Maple Leafs frittered away.
After a strong game in Anaheim and a surprising win in Los Angeles, the potential was there to come back with six or more points and in even more stable position in the standings.
Instead, they lost two in a row to teams chasing them, and neither game was pretty.
On Sunday, a brutal start put them down 3-0 right away in Washington doomed the rest of the game despite the Capitals looking very shaky in the win.
Two nights later, a Detroit Red Wings team that was missing nine forwards to injury and playing a huge portion of its AHL roster – Drew Miller led all forwards in ice time – hung on for a 3-2 win after some terrible decisions by Leafs defencemen.
The damage in the end was a 2-3-0 trip that also included an embarrassing loss in San Jose.
Here are a few things we learned about the Maple Leafs the past week and a half:
1. As Kessel goes, so go the Leafs
You may think that goes without saying, but the numbers are truly startling.
Phil Kessel had a great start to the trip with a goal and three points against the Ducks but was then shutout thereafter, despite a strong night against the Red Wings in putting up seven shots in Tuesday’s loss.
Kessel has now gone pointless in six of his last eight games, something that was in some ways expected given how incredibly hot he and his linemates had been prior to that point.
What’s concerning, however, is Toronto’s record when he is blanked is 6-19-2.
The Leafs entire top line is also not strong enough defensively to compensate for when they’re not producing, as evidenced by some of the shot counts with them on the ice on the trip.
2. Don’t blame the goalies
So much focus was on the goaltenders on the trip, primarily because Jonathan Bernier went down with an injury midgame in Los Angeles and James Reimer had to step in.
Don’t let the scores fool you though: The goalies weren’t why the Leafs lost three of the five games.Toronto’s tandem may have allowed 16 goals, but in a familiar refrain, that was a result of the barrage they were facing. Combined, they posted a .919 save percentage that is well above average and that should be enough to win on most nights in the NHL.
3. Toronto’s D remains a huge problem
All the goals against really come back to an old problem for this team: too many Grade A chances against.
Overall, the Leafs allowed 197 shots in the five games, or just shy of 40 a night. In Washington and Detroit, many of them came on 2-on-1s, breakaways or with a man wide open alone in the slot.
The Leafs are now 26th in the NHL in goals against with an even three allowed per game, which is way up from the 2.67 allowed per game a year ago – despite better goaltending.
This is a team that continues to struggle to start well (they’ve been outscored 62-46 in first periods) and has trouble holding late leads, two things that point to preparation and the system put in place by the coaching staff.
4. Cody Franson has faded
But Cody Franson is struggling – and not just with his defensive play.
A key member of a first power play unit that has gone ice cold – the Leafs have only three man advantage goals and a 9.4 per cent success rate in the last 13 games – Franson has looked tentative with the puck of late and isn’t factoring in on scoring plays nearly as often.
He has only 12 points in his last 34 games, including just four on the man advantage in that span, and the Leafs have been badly outshot and outscored with him on the ice.
Like everyone on the blueline since the Leafs have gone to seven D, Franson’s ice time is down lately, but likely not enough. With limited mobility and sagging production, he appears best suited for only third pairing duty.
5. David Clarkson is a lost cause
No points in the last 10 games, few shots on goal, a dwindling number of minutes and generally not all that noticeable in games save for when the play stops to allow him to fight.
Tied with Joffrey Lupul with the team’s second highest cap hit for a forward, he has nonetheless been outscored by 13 teammates and has the same number of points as Troy Bodie, Dave Bolland (who last played Nov. 1) and Peter Holland.
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