Maple Leafs Week In Review (March 1-March 8)
BarnBurner Sports Writer
Saturday, March 7, 2020
Toronto Drops Three Straight In California To The NHL's Western Conference Bottom-Feeders, Fail To Separate Themselves From Florida
For the Toronto Maple Leafs, the week of March 1st-March 8th was a chance to separate themselves from the Florida Panthers for the final playoff spot in the Atlantic Division--instead, the opportunity was squandered, and having the certainty of playoff hockey in Toronto in 2020 will have to wait at least another week.
The Maple Leafs spent the week in California, playing San Jose, Los Angeles, and Anaheim in succession. Coming off three straight victories, the week started with great optimism for Toronto, as its only competitor to take the final playoff spot, the aforementioned Panthers, have struggled and effectively gifted the Leafs an opportunity to run away with the third spot in the division.
The Maple Leafs did not accept the gift--instead they erased the three straight win streak by losing three straight in California. As of March 8th, the Atlantic Division playoff situation for Toronto seems acceptable from face value--a five point cushion on Florida with 13 games remaining. However, the Panthers have two games in hand, and the Leafs just lost three in a row to the three worst teams in the Western Conference.
The story for the Maple Leafs this week was the uncharacteristic low-scoring results the team produced. The first game this week was on Tuesday, when the Leafs lost 5-2 to the Sharks. Jack Campbell got the start in net, giving Frederik Andersen the night off. Despite a strong effort from Campbell to keep the Leafs within striking distance all game, the team in front of him could not help the cause, and the road trip was off to a disappointing start. Offensively, the only bright spot of the game was Mitch Marner’s incredible, highlight reel goal in the second period, which will surely be marked down as one the team’s best of the year.
Thursday in Los Angeles was highlighted by strong goaltending on both sides. Frederik Andersen and Kings goalie Jonathan Quick stole the show, as the game remained scoreless through overtime and into the shootout. The Kings defeated the Leafs in the shootout, but the takeaways from the game revolved around a silent offensive group, and Andersen’s great play, which can be considered the sharpest he has looked in net in quite some time. A 1-0 loss in a shootout means a shutout for both goaltenders, but the Maple Leafs will just be happy they received a point from the loss, slightly extending the gap between themselves and the Panthers.
The week wrapped up in Anaheim where the Maple Leafs played in a game eerily similar to the matchup in LA from the night prior. Great goaltending, lack of scoring and yet again--another loss. The Leafs lost 2-1 in regulation to end the California trip, earning one point in a possible six.
Ducks goalie John Gibson was fantastic, just like Quick was in LA. Gibson was on his way to shutting out the Leafs and giving them a total of two goals scored in three games in California, until he left the game with an injury at 10:20 of the third period, after making 26 saves. Shortly after, William Nylander beat back-up Ducks netminder Ryan Miller to finally get the Leafs on the score sheet, its first goal since Marner’s highlight reel effort Tuesday in San Jose.
The Maple Leafs still occupy the final spot in the Atlantic Division, but after dropping three straight games to bottom-feeders in the West, the road for Toronto will get much tougher in the weeks to come. Tampa Bay, Nashville and Boston are the next three opponents for the Maple Leafs, where they will attempt to yet again solidify its place as an Eastern Conference playoff team.