If you thought that consecutive 5-2 losses to Buffalo and Pittsburgh earlier this week constituted the low point of the 2019-20 regular season, on Saturday the Toronto Maple Leafs said “hold my beer”. The Leafs once again displayed a lack of defensive detail, allowing the Carolina Hurricanes to score four second-period goals in a 6-3 loss at Scotiabank Arena.
To call the game surreal would be an understatement with Carolina losing both starting goalie James Reimer and backup Petr Mrazek to injury, Marlies Zamboni driver David Ayres coming in midway through the middle frame as the emergency backup, and the Leafs still not putting up a strong effort, but that kind of puzzling performance has pretty much been the norm for Toronto since the end of their 10-game point streak in early January.
After John Tavares and Pierre Engvall scored on Ayres late in the second, the Canes rebounded with two goals early in the third and played the trap to prevent the Leafs from carrying the puck into the zone. Instead of adjusting their tactics by dumping and retrieving the puck into Carolina zone, Toronto continued trying to carry the puck into the zone and played right into the Hurricanes hands, who limited the Leafs to just seven shots in the third.
“It's going to be a tough one here for us to regroup from, it's going to take a little time. (It was) disappointing given the way it went for us (against Pittsburgh on Thursday) and we thought we had put together a good process and a good model for what we need to look like and how we can have success.” Leafs head coach Sheldon Keefe said after the loss. “I just thought our execution was so poor. It's a sign our best players just weren't having a good night. That was more of what was to come in the second and third.”
The fact that the Leafs have put forth three of their worst efforts in the week leading up to the trade deadline should provide GM Kyle Dubas enough evidence that his club is not a late-season acquisition away from being a competitive playoff club, but a club in need of a major shakeup and philosophical adjustment. In fact, the loss may have convinced the Leafs GM to recoup some future assets by dealing pending free agent Tyson Barrie.
The prospect of the Leafs blueliner being a deadline target did not look promising after 20 minutes on Saturday, as Barrie left for the locker room in obvious discomfort after being slammed into the end boards by Carolina’s Andrei Svechnikov, but he returned for the second and did not appear limited in any way for the rest of the game.
Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman and Chris Johnston reported that three Western Conference clubs (Vegas, Calgary, and Vancouver) all have interest in Barrie, and that the determining factor may be the Leafs ability to get a blueliner in return or a package of draft picks that can be flipped to get a blueliner to replace Barrie.
Friedman indicated that both Morgan Rielly and Cody Ceci are expected to get return at some point in March, but that would mean rookie Rasmus Sandin taking over as the power-play quarterback if Barrie is dealt until Rielly returns.
Toronto did make a minor move on Saturday, swapping Marlies defenseman Ben Harpur to Nashville for farmhand forward Miikka Salomaki, but it is unknown what will be to come on Monday. The Leafs placed forward Dmytro Timashov on waivers, hoping to get the young forward down to the AHL on the same day as a number of teams are trying to clear roster and salary-cap space in advance of the deadline.
TSN’s Darren Dreger reports that the Leafs are among seven teams interested in former Sabres blueliner Zach Bogosian (who cleared waivers and became an unrestricted free agent after having his contract terminated), but that their interest may have cooled slightly. Bogosian is expected to decide by Monday where he wants to play for the remainder of the season.
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