TORONTO – The Toronto Maple Leafs are giving Brian Burke plenty to think about ahead of the NHL trade deadline.
Patrick Marleau scored twice Thursday as the San Jose Sharks edged Toronto 2-1, sending the stumbling Leafs to their seventh loss in eight games and knocking them out of playoff position in the Eastern Conference.
“We need a win somehow,” said Leafs coach Ron Wilson.
Burke put the players on alert when he told a Toronto radio station Wednesday that he was in the market for a goaltender ahead of Monday’s trade deadline. Judging by the team’s play of late, he probably won’t stop there.
The biggest concern against San Jose was the lack of urgency the Leafs showed over the opening 40 minutes. A fantastic third period wasn’t enough to make up for the slow start.
“Points are extremely important right now and every game is a big game for us,” said Leafs forward Tim Connolly. “We’ve got to play that way for a full 60 minutes.”
With the goaltending under fire, James Reimer made arguably the most important start of his young NHL career. He did his part with 24 saves but saw his record fall to 11-9-4 on the season.
Marleau was the only player to beat him with a pair of second-period goals that lifted the Sharks (32-20-7) to their first win in five games.
“I’m quite proud and pleased of the way the guys responded,” said Sharks coach Todd McLellan. “We had a hell of a game on our hands. They’re a very fast team but we did some of the things we wanted to.”
Jake Gardiner replied for the Maple Leafs (29-25-7), who fell to 1-6-1 since Feb. 7.
Toronto dropped to ninth place in the Eastern Conference with Winnipeg’s victory over Tampa Bay. That will only add a bit more pressure on a franchise trying to end its playoff drought at eight years.
“It’s fun to play right now,” said Leafs centre Tyler Bozak. “We’re in a race, we’re battling for a playoff spot. These are the games every guy in here wants to play in here, but we’ve got to do a better job.”
The teams took some time to feel their way into the game, producing a tepid opening 20 minutes. But Marleau put the Sharks ahead early in the second period by quickly firing a Joe Thornton pass over Reimer’s shoulder just 32 seconds in.
That put Toronto back on its heels and allowed San Jose to gain some momentum.
“It’s been stressed the last couple days and just to get that first goal is huge,” said Sharks forward Joe Thornton. “We kind of grabbed some confidence off that.”
Marleau scored his 25th of the season—and second of the night—just 17 seconds after Luke Schenn was penalized for interference. The forward stood at the top of the crease and tipped a Logan Couture shot past Reimer at 10:43.
There was an uneasy feeling in the Air Canada Centre as the horn sounded on the second period with San Jose ahead 2-0. A smattering of boos could be heard in the otherwise silent arena.
It changed quickly following the intermission as the Leafs came out firing.
Gardiner narrowed the deficit to 2-1 at 3:53 by firing a shot through traffic that eluded Sharks goalie Antti Niemi. The fourth goal of the season for the rookie defenceman couldn’t have come at a much better time.
Toronto kept on pushing and saw two good chances from Matthew Lombardi turned away. Niemi was out at the top of his crease to deny the second one from the slot. That was as close as the Leafs would get.
“We threw everything but the kitchen sink at the San Jose Sharks and Niemi,” said Reimer. “I thought we worked hard and we deserved to score another goal or two at the end.”
Burke will only get one more opportunity to watch his team before the trade deadline. The Leafs face Washington on Saturday before wrapping up a four-game homestand against Florida on Tuesday.
Both of those teams are among those they’re battling for playoff position.
“We need to win those games,” said Wilson. “We have to understand that as a group in there, that you’ve got to be ready to give whatever you’ve got left in the tank to win those hockey games.”
Notes: San Jose wasn’t assessed a penalty. … Leafs defenceman Mike Komisarek was scratched for the ninth time in 11 games. … Recently acquired San Jose forward Dominic Moore sat out with a lower-body injury. … Former Leafs GM John Ferguson Jr. is now director of pro scouting for the Sharks. … Andrea Bargnani of the Toronto Raptors took in the game. … Announced attendance was 19,493.