Mike Augello: Defensive Flaws Costly In Loss To Flyers; Leafs Vs Hawks

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The followers of the Toronto Maple Leafs may have been getting used to receiving victories as bright, shiny presents to start the 12 days of Christmas, but as the holiday approaches they are getting treated to a steady diet of charcoal briquettes.

The Maple Leafs followed up a three-goal loss to the offensively weak last-place Carolina Hurricanes with a 7-4 loss to the bottom dwelling Philadelphia Flyers in their final home game of the year at Air Canada Center on Saturday.

Toronto continued their disturbing trend of yielding a high amount of shots on goal, losing puck battles and turning over the puck on Saturday, but goalie Jonathan Bernier could not bail them out this time, allowing seven Flyers goals before being pulled midway through the third period.

“We had a good start offensively, but we gave them a lot of good scoring chances.” defenseman Stephane Robidas said after the game. “That’s a good team over there. They have lots of skill and we beat ourselves basically because we turned the puck over too much. It’s not the right way. We didn’t play the right way tonight and it showed, and that’s why we lost that game.”

The Leafs continued their struggles against the league’s lesser lights, as they are now 5-8-1 against opponents with a .500 record or less, but are 14-3-2 against teams over .500.

Joffrey Lupul and James van Riemsdyk staked Toronto to a 2-0 lead early in the first, but that lead evaporated in the span of three minutes, as RJ Umberger and Sean Couturier took advantage of some loose defensive play to tie the game.

David Clarkson tallied his ninth of the season 15 seconds after Couturier’s tying goal to put the Leafs back in front, but Claude Giroux responded for Philadelphia on a set play off the center ice faceoff just 11 seconds later.

The Flyers took control of the game in the middle frame with a pair of goals from Nicklas Grossman and Giroux and padded the lead with tallies from rookie Scott Laughton and Michael Raffl in the third.

Bernier was pulled after allowing seven goals on 41 shots in favor of James Reimer, who is expected to get the start against the Chicago Black Hawks at the United Center on Sunday night.

“I thought we had a decent start to the hockey game.” Leafs coach Randy Carlyle said. “Obviously when you score two goals, we did something right to start the game, but we just seemed to get sloppy with the management of the puck and we allowed them to come back into the game and take control of the game. We didn’t do a very good job from the 10-minute point of the first period.” Positives

Peter Holland – The 23-year-old scored his eighth goal of the season and was +2 on the night, one of the few Leafs in the positive section on the evening.

Special Teams – The loss to Philadelphia was a 5-on-5 disaster. Special teams did well on Saturday, as the Leafs PK went 3 for 3 against the Flyers 5th ranked power play unit and the Toronto power play scored what should have been a meaningful goal in the first. Negatives

Dion Phaneuf – Whenever observers start to give Phaneuf credit for playing well, he invariably puts up a stinker to give his critics more ammunition. The Leafs captain was -4 on the night and primarily responsible leaving RJ Umberger uncovered in front of the net on the Flyers momentum-changing goal in the 1st.

Nazem Kadri – Even the most fervent Kadri haters have to admit that the young center has played much better at both ends of the ice the last month, but the thought of signing the 24-year-old to a long-term deal for big money becomes as risky a proposition as the extension to Jake Gardiner when you look at a game like Saturday. Kadri went head-to-head with star center Claude Giroux and got pulverized, losing 14 of 19 faceoffs and going -4, while Giroux scored two goals and two assists.

Top Line Terrible – The lord giveth and the lord taketh away is how the expression goes. The Leafs top line of Joffrey Lupul – Tyler Bozak – Phil Kessel gave the Leafs a two-goal first period lead but quickly gave it back and changed the course of the game because they have no concept of defensive responsibility. The unit was on the ice for both Philadelphia goals and was split up to start the second period.

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Toronto begins their seven-game, nearly three-week long road trip on Sunday against the Blackhawks at the United Center in Chicago on Sunday night. Unlike many of the back-to-back games the Leafs have been involved in this season, the team they are facing in the second game does not have the advantage of being well rested.

The Hawks lead the Central Division with a 22-9-2 record(46 points) and were in action on Saturday, losing a 3-2 shootout to the Blue Jackets in spite of outshooting Columbus 41-19. Starting goalie Corey Crawford took the loss, which makes it likely that backup Antti Raanta will get the start against the Leafs.

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HNIC’s Elliotte Friedman reported on Saturday that the Leafs met with free agent Boston University goaltender Matt O’Connor. The 22-year-old Toronto native has a 10-2-1 record and 1.67 goals-against average in his junior season with the Terriers and is expected to sign with an NHL team after his season is complete. The Leafs, Edmonton Oilers, Vancouver Canucks and Ottawa Senators have all made inquiries on O’Connor, the 6’5” 201 lb netminder.

Toronto could be looking to add to their organizational depth in goal. The Leafs like first year pro Antoine Bibeau, who played well in the 2014 Memorial Cup and impressed at training camp, but former Kings draft pick Christopher Gibson and prospect Garret Sparks do not seem to be making any significant progress in their second professional seasons.

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Recently fired Edmonton Oilers coach Dallas Eakins may find his way back in the Maple Leafs organization, according to Sportsnet’s Damien Cox. Eakins spent seven years in Toronto as an assistant coach, in player development and as head coach of the AHL Toronto Marlies(which he led to a Calder Cup Final in 2012), but Cox indicates that Eakins would not necessarily be returning to replace Gord Dineen(his former assistant) as the Marlies head coach. *******If you are interested in sponsorship or advertising your business in the Greater Toronto / Southern Ontario area on this column, please send a message for more information by clicking on the “Contact” button at the top of the page.*******

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