Every few months, the Toronto Maple Leafs seemingly do something laughable enough to grab the attention of hockey fans everywhere.
Embarrassing situations and defeats happen to other teams all the time; however, for many hockey fans, there’s simply nothing more gratifying than having a new reason to laugh at the Leafs.
For example, almost one year ago today, the Buds lost to the Carolina Hurricanes in humiliating fashion. Primarily because the Canes’ goalie, David Ayres, was actually an arena maintenance worker employed by MLSE – aka an EBUG (emergency back-up goaltender) who drew in roughly halfway through the second period.
Let’s be honest though, do you really expect Foster’s name to still be circulating in the coming years? Probably not. Ayres, however, has already become a classic tale that has certainly cemented itself into NHL lore forever.
Last night was Pierre Engvall’s first goal in almost a year.
The last time he scored? The David Ayres game.
Stop Engvall from ever scoring a goal again is my general thesis.
— Dril Nylander (@LeBronMaclean) February 16, 2021
Fast-forward to August 2020 when the next domino fell – the disappointing play-in round showing against the Columbus Blue Jackets. Toronto went the distance in the five-game series, but also failed to score at all in the final game. Their last playoff series win was in 2004, and that streak continues.
Now, in 2021, the Buds’ third-period collapse against the Ottawa Senators on Monday is set to join the list. With only nine seconds left in the second period, Sens forward Nick Paul scored a shorty. Not ideal, but Toronto still led 5-2 heading into the intermission. What could possibly go wrong?
Famous. Last. Words. Just 41 seconds into the third frame, rookie defenseman Artem Zub left the penalty box and deked Toronto goaltender Frederik Andersen out of his jock shorts for his first career NHL goal.
About five minutes later, former Leafs forward Connor Brown snapped one home from in-tight. Just like that, it became a one-goal game.
The rest of the contest can only be described as the Evgenii Dadonov show. With just two minutes remaining, the Russian sniper potted his fifth goal of the season to send the game to extra time.
In overtime, following a misplay in Ottawa’s zone by Toronto defender Morgan Rielly, Dadonov ended up on a breakaway and the rest is history. The 4-12-1 Senators defeated the 11-3-2 Maple Leafs, and Hockey Twitter collectively exploded.
EVGENII DADONOV COMPLETES THE COMEBACK IN OT! pic.twitter.com/ZSuIKigIpD
— NHL (@NHL) February 16, 2021
To make things worse, this loss followed up another third-period collapse at the hands of the Montreal Canadiens on Saturday.
Despite these back-to-back atrocious losses, Toronto still has a great record stemming from a hot start and remains at the top of the heap – with a league-best 24 points through 16 games.
On the other hand, this roster is still a work in progress and one problem seems to keep pushing itself to the forefront – complacency.
The Leafs consistently look like they’re playing with an ego, which can be a bad thing if not done correctly. After all, there’s a razor-thin line between being cocky and being confident.
The addition of strong veteran leaders like Joe Thornton and Wayne Simmonds has somewhat helped to quell the amount of ‘mail-it-in’ shifts that the team has exhibited in years past, but that’s only a starting point.
The Joe Thornton shouldn’t be on the top line takes be… pic.twitter.com/0hOrZt96OW
— James Mirtle (@mirtle) February 16, 2021
Despite the positive progression, they’re still seemingly far away from becoming that consistent, powerhouse team that plays every game as if it will be their last.
Toronto’s head coach Sheldon Keefe has preached the concept of ‘winning habits’ time after time, but the Leafs’ lack of commitment to team defense is still concerning. Especially when protecting a late lead.
The Buds have actually pulled it off many times so far. Their record when leading after two periods this season was 8-0-0 heading into Saturday’s game against Montreal.
But the fact remains – the Leafs’ last two games have been extremely ugly and need to be used as a wake-up call.
There are no easy wins in this division – not even against Ottawa who had actually outshot and generally outplayed their opponents by a notable margin in the three games prior to facing Toronto.
The only real solution is for the Leafs to take these defeats in stride. Learn from them, grow from them, and think back to them whenever they’re thinking of taking their collective foot off of the gas pedal.
We’ve acquired Alex Galchenyuk from Carolina in exchange for Egor Korshkov and David Warsofsky. #LeafsForever
— Toronto Maple Leafs (@MapleLeafs) February 15, 2021