The Toronto Maple Leafs are falling in the standings after suffering their fifth-straight loss to the San Jose Sharks by a score of 4-2. The Maple Leafs are now 14-11-3 on the year, while the Sharks improved their record to 19-3-5.
Toronto battled hard after falling in an early 2-0 hole, but it’s obvious that the multiple injuries the team is trying to endure are becoming problematic. The Sharks flexed their team depth and took over the contest after the Maple Leafs managed to tie the game in the second period. A Toronto lineup filled with AHL talent couldn’t contain one of the best teams in the league.
The Maple Leafs were already without Joffrey Lupul and Dave Bolland before the day began. However, it was revealed in the afternoon that Cody Franson and Nazem Kadri would also be out of action against the Sharks. If missing four key members of the line-up wasn’t bad enough, Tyler Bozak left the game after picking up an assist earlier in the contest and didn’t return for the third period.
Nobody can fault Toronto for losing to San Jose given all the players they have out of the lineup. Losing Lupul and Kadri meant the Sharks only had to worry about the Maple Leafs’ top line as the two players make up the majority of Toronto’s secondary scoring. Unfortunately, the top line took a hit halfway through the game when Bozak left the contest. With Bolland already out, Toronto didn’t have any of their top-three centers to put on the ice when Bozak was forced to leave.
Considering the giant holes left in Toronto’s forward lineup, the last thing they needed to worry about was injuries on their thin blue line. Losing Franson meant the team was without its second leader in ice-time as the defenseman averages close to 21 minutes per game while also leading the team in hits.
The Maple Leafs depend on Franson nearly just as much as they depend on captain Dion Phaneuf, given the youth and limited talent they have on their blue-line. Toronto was going to have a tough time defensively trying to contain the Sharks with Franson in the lineup, and losing him made the task nearly impossible.
Toronto’s compete level can’t be questioned as the team didn’t play poorly despite being dominated in their own zone at times. The Maple Leafs tried to go toe-to-toe with a deep San Jose squad, but the talent gap between the two teams was obvious. Anytime a team is missing its top-three centers, second line-winger and second-best defenseman, they likely aren’t going to have much success.
The game would have been dramatically different if Toronto was able to have all five players in the lineup, but given that every team must endure injuries, missing players can’t be used as an excuse.
Still, now that the Maple Leafs have lost five games in a row and have only won three times in their last 12 games, there’s no denying Toronto has been affected by the injury bug. What made the team successful early was their ability to roll three lines. With four of those top-nine forwards out of the lineup, it’s no wonder the team has struggled.
Toronto desperately needs to get healthy. They proved at the start of the season that they can compete with the best teams in the Eastern Conference. However, all the team is proving now is that the injury bug is too much to overcome.