The Maple Leafs’ embarrassment after a 6-2 loss to Chicago on Saturday night was greater than the score.
The Leafs, with their fifth loss in six games, tumbled down the Eastern Conference standings, from third in the Atlantic Division to out of the playoff picture. Florida, with a win over Detroit, pulled even with the Leafs in the Atlantic in points, and the Panthers have a pair of games in hand. Columbus, with a win over New Jersey, pulled ahead of Toronto in the wild-card race.
The Leafs are a point out of the wild-card spots in the East, tied with Carolina, which also has a game in hand.
It has been a difficult couple of weeks for the Leafs, who were on a 9-0-1 run after they beat the Islanders on Jan. 4. Since then, they have gone 1-3-2, looking crestfallen and unable to get their defensive game in shape. Goalie Frederik Andersen is going through a rough stretch, looking positively porous in the worst of those losses.
Leafs coach Sheldon Keefe, like his players, is heading for warmer climates during the bye week. But the new coach has to be worried about his team’s falling fortunes. He’s talked about his team playing better defence for an entire 60 minutes, about protecting the puck and making better decisions with it.
So far, during this slide, his team has shown very little consistency with any of those issues. They’ve been outscored 30-21 during their current slide, a bad sign for a team that is the NHL’s highest scoring team since Keefe took over Nov. 21.
His biggest issue, though, is with his goalie. The Leafs have searched for all kinds of answers regarding Andersen’s workload since he arrived in Toronto in 2016.
He entered the game with 1,066 saves, the third most in the NHL. But over his last 12 starts, he has surrendered 42 goals. That’s a 3.50 average over that span, well above his season GAA of 2.80.
It was all Blackhawks on Saturday as Jonathan Toews and rookie Dominik Kubalik had two goals each. Their line, with Drake Caggiula, had a memorable night, accounting for five goals and 10 points overall. Kubalik now has 20 goals, tops among NHL rookies.
William Nylander and Alexander Kerfoot scored the Leafs goals, both in the second period.
Nylander’s goal, on a power play, was his 22nd of the season, tying a career high. It came in his 49th game of the season.
But the Leafs were too far behind on the scoreboard in this one. They mounted plenty of comeback bids, only to have Chicago answer right back.
One from 1,000: Chicago superstar Patrick Kane had an assist to notch his 999th career point. He is looking to become the 90th NHL player to reach 1,000.
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Game No. 1: Keefe dressed seven defenceman Saturday, giving rookie Timothy Liljegren his career first NHL start. Keefe went with 11 forwards, dropping Dmytro Timashov after the pre-game warm-ups. Liljegren was paired with Rasmus Sandin in the second and third periods, giving Leaf fans a glimpse of what could be the club’s second defensive pairing next season. He played 10 minutes and 40 seconds and was a minus-1.
Up next: The Leafs have next week off and resume play Jan. 27 in Nashville.