Leafs Week In Review — The Season in a Nutshell (Feb 16-22)
BarnBurner Sports Writer
Sunday, February 23, 2020
It was a week capped by a game the Toronto Maple Leafs would just as soon forget, but the NHL history books and likely Netflix will not allow. Fresh off an impressive 4-0 home ice win against the the Pittsburgh Penguins, the Leafs suffered a humiliating 6-3 loss Saturday night to the Carolina Hurricanes. The winning goalie in this one was 42-year-old Zamboni driver David Ayres — the Canes’ emergency goalie pressed into action after both starting goalie James Reimer and backup Petr Mrazek were forced to leave due to injury. Ayres, who serves as the Leafs practice goalie when needed, skated onto the ice in what had become an almost circus-like atmosphere at Scotiabank Arena.
But comedy quickly turned to tragedy for Leafs Nation. The expected strobe goal light effect behind Ayres didn’t happen —far from it. The Leafs only attempted 22 shots with just ten on net from the time Ayres entered the game. Ayres made eight saves, blanking the blue and white in the final period to become the oldest goalie in history to win their NHL debut. This is the stuff movies are made of — I humbly suggest Matt Damon in the leading role.
The past week, and this game in particular, highlights the inconsistent play that has been characteristic of the Leafs’ season. Last Sunday in Buffalo, the Buds collapsed in the third period, giving up three goals in 1:31 in a 5-2 loss to the Sabres. Tuesday, the Leafs were buried by the Penguins, falling behind 5-0, giving up three power play goals in a 5-2 loss.
But as bad as the Leafs looked in Pittsburgh, they were simply that good in the return engagement Thursday night at Scotiabank. It was a performance that many thought could prove pivotal in the Leafs’ drive for the playoffs. Then came the Carolina debacle.
All is not lost to be sure. Despite the rough week, the Leafs continue to hold down third place in the Eastern Conference Atlantic Division with 72 points, just two ahead of the Florida Panthers who hold a game in hand over Toronto.
Fortunately for the Leafs, the Panthers have had troubles of their own, losing their last two games and three of their last five.
For Leafs GM Kyle Dubas, the pressure continues to build in the face of the NHL trade deadline. Amid speculation the Leafs would be looking to add another quality defenseman, several blue liners thought to be on Toronto’s wish list have already found new homes.
This past week is ultimately proving to be a test of how Leafs players, coaches and management respond to adversity. The stakes are high, the margin for error is low, and for Leafs Nation missing the playoffs is simply not an option.