One trend the Toronto Maple Leafs were hoping to leave in 2013 made sure it wasn’t going anywhere in just the team’s second game of the New Year.
It’s no secret the Maple Leafs have been struggling and one of the groups taking advantage of them the most are the league’s backup goaltenders. Six times in the past six weeks Toronto has been defeated by the opposition’s backup goalie and the majority of the time the team has been badly outplayed.
The trend began when the Nashville Predators came to town on Nov. 21 and defeated the Maple Leafs 4-2. Toronto was beaten despite shutting out the Predators in Nashville a month prior to this contest. Marek Mazanec, who only has a 7-8-3 record on the year, stopped 24 of 26 shots while filling in for the injured Pekka Rinne.
On Dec. 11 the Los Angeles Kings brought the Martin Jones sensation to Toronto as he led the way, being named first star of the game in a 3-1 victory. Nobody expected Jones to fill in so well for the injured Jonathan Quick, but he easily had one of the best performances of his short career, while making 38 saves.
The Florida Panthers’ Scott Clemmensen took two points from his former club on Dec. 17 when he made 28 saves, while being named the third star of a 3-1 victory. This was a game the Maple Leafs needed to win against the struggling Panthers, but couldn’t beat Clemmensen on the second night of back-to-back games.
Four nights after Clemmensen beat Toronto, another former Maple Leaf goaltender defeated the team as Jonas Gustavsson and the Detroit Red Wings picked up a 5-4 shootout win. In a preview to the Winter Classic, the Maple Leafs blew a one-goal lead with six minutes remaining in regulation time before failing to score on Gustavsson in the shootout.
Perhaps the most dominate performance by a backup goaltender against the Maple Leafs has been Cam Talbot’s ability to lead the New York Rangers over Toronto twice in five games. Talbot was named first star of a 2-1 shootout victory on Dec. 23 in New York after making 25 saves. It was a battle between goaltenders as Jonathan Bernier made 42 saves before Bernier and Toronto lost consecutive games in the shootout.
Talbot made sure his performance wasn’t a fluke and reassured the Maple Leafs’ problem with backup goaltenders isn’t going away in 2014 when the Rangers won 7-1 in Toronto on Jan. 4. While New York scored a touchdown against the Maple Leafs, Talbot made sure Toronto wasn’t going to reach field goal territory with a third-star, 25-save performance.
It’s unclear why Toronto struggles against backup goaltenders, as perhaps the team fails to take their opponent seriously. There’s no question the Maple Leafs lacked intensity against Nashville and Florida, while a bad start against the Red Wings eventually cost them the contest.
Toronto played well against Los Angeles and in New York, but were denied by Jones and Talbot. However, there’s no excuse for their performance while the Rangers were in town, as it was an absolute embarrassment and one of the worst home losses in the team’s history. To make matters worse, Toronto could have padded its lead in the standings over New York, but blew the opportunity and allowed for the Rangers to close its gap on a wild card spot.
The Maple Leafs can’t afford to take their opponents lightly with the race in the Eastern Conference standings only heating up. If anything, the team has proven they need to play twice as hard when the opposition starts their second-string players.