The Toronto Maple Leafs had the opportunity to start fresh last night in their game against the St. Louis Blues. The team’s first game back off their league mandated bye-week could have been a turning point in an inconsistent season. As it turned out though, the game proved to be only another blown opportunity.
Carrying a 1-0 lead into the final minute of play, the Leafs surrendered a late tying goal to Blues forward, and former Leafs player, Alex Steen. Then 21-year-old rookie and Lindsay, Ontario native Vince Dunn won it for the Blues in overtime on a picture perfect end-to-end rush.
After the game, Leafs head coach Mike Babcock was none too pleased. The Leafs have squandered leads in each of their past three games, failing to stomp out the Blues, Ottawa Senators and Columbus Blue Jackets while carrying late-game leads. It’s a trend that’s disturbing to Babcock, so on Tuesday night he let his team know exactly how he feels about the situation.
“You want to win this, you want to walk out of here feeling good,” said the Leafs bench boss. “But it’s simple, life is about lessons. Suck it up and find a way to win games.”
While it was obvious that Babcock wasn’t happy with forward Mitch Marner’s effort on the game winning OT goal, it was actually Steen’s game-tying goal that had Babcock talking on Tuesday night.
“One of their forwards came across, instead of just holding on their side, and then they ended up having an outnumbered situation on that side,” he explained. “All you have to do is be patient and hold and stay underneath … just settle down and play. We’ve done it lots and done it well, so we know how to do it, we just have to execute.”
As for Marner, he owned up to his mistake in OT… kind of. “I was just trying to take away a reverse to [Vladimir] Tarasenko,” Marner said, “Slowed up, kind of read it wrong and they got an odd-man rush and it didn’t go in our favour.”
Look closely and you’ll notice that Marner tries to “sell” an elbow or two in order to draw a penalty and loses a step Dunn in the process.
Again, Babcock doesn’t like what he saw from Marner. “In OT, you can’t be on the wrong side of the puck,” said Babcock. “What you learn with good teams you can’t cheat – ever. You just keep doing things good, you stay patient and you get your opportunities. But if you cheat for offence, you lose.”
The Leafs have now lost six of their last eight games and they’ve scored three or fewer goals in each contest. Scoring goals, holding leads and finding a way to grind out close games has been a challenge for the team so far in 2018, but can they use this mini-slump as motivation? A learning experience for the road ahead?
“I don’t know if it’s really a learning experience. We had enough of that last year,” said superstar forward Auston Matthews. “We’ve just got to find a way to win because this game should have definitely been our two points and we let it slip away.”