TORONTO – At last there is nothing left to say.
With their exasperated fans chanting “Let’s Go Blue Jays!” and their home losing streak having plunged to a new low, the Toronto Maple Leafs were completely out of answers.
“There’s not a lot we can say,” coach Randy Carlyle concluded after an embarrassing 7-1 loss to Philadelphia on Thursday. “We’ve said everything we can say. You’re really looking to the inner self of the individuals to say ‘Hey, how can we continue to allow this to happen?'”
The season can’t end soon enough.
A group of players who played well enough to have the Leafs in playoff position through 60 games has completely imploded down the stretch. On Thursday night, it took about 12 minutes to see that all of the pre-game talk about playing for pride was nothing more than that—talk.
The playoff-bound Flyers completely had their way with the Leafs.
“How many shots did we have tonight—12, 15?” said forward Phil Kessel. “When you play like that and they have 35 or 40, how do you win a game? We’re just not doing anything right.
“We expect better of ourselves.”
The actual shots total was 30-17 for Philadelphia, but Kessel can be forgiven for thinking it was worse. The team’s normally camera-shy sniper has emerged as an unlikely spokesman over the last week, with the atmosphere in the dressing room worsening considerably.
In the midst of a career year offensively, Kessel can’t see any silver lining after a 5-17-3 stretch over the last two months.
“We just can’t figure it out,” he said. “We’re trying. I don’t know what else to say, it’s not a good feeling.”
Injuries have played a role in Toronto’s on-ice struggles and another one popped up Thursday when starting goalie Jonas Gustavsson took a shot off his left knee in warmups and had to be helped to the dressing room.
That left Jussi Rynnas to make his first NHL start against the league’s third-highest scoring team. An emergency AHL callup because of James Reimer’s upper-body injury earlier in the week, Rynnas stopped 23 shots but didn’t have much of a chance with a dispirited team playing in front of him.
Brayden Schenn and Wayne Simmonds each scored twice while Matt Read, Eric Wellwood and Jakub Voracek added one apiece for the Flyers (45-24-8). Danny Briere chipped in four assists on a night when 11 Philadelphia players registered at least a point.
Prior to boarding a plane home, the Flyers extended some sympathy to their opponents—an unintended insult in itself.
“I’ve been on their side, too, early in my career,” said Briere. “It’s tough when you feel the pressure from the fans. When you’re out of the playoffs, it’s tough to get motivated.
“Especially when you have a team that’s hungry that comes in.”
Mikhail Grabovski replied for the Maple Leafs (33-36-9).
Two of Toronto’s four remaining games will be played at the Air Canada Centre—Saturday against Buffalo and next Thursday against Tampa—where the Leafs haven’t won since Feb. 6. The 11-game losing run in their own building is four games longer than the franchise’s previous mark for futility, set in 1984 when it still called Maple Leaf Gardens home.
They had no chance of ending the streak on this night.
Schenn scored twice in the opening 12 minutes of the game—the first came with brother Luke, a Leafs defenceman, on the ice—and Toronto still didn’t find life after Grabovski scored a beautiful breakaway goal.
Simmonds extended the Flyers lead to 3-1 at 3:55 of the second period and Read added to it with a short-handed marker at 12:03. The “Let’s Go Blue Jays!” chants started before the period was out and resumed in the third just as Wellwood made it 5-1.
Philadelphia kept coming, too, as players seized the chance to add to their offensive totals. They didn’t receive much pushback, either.
“It doesn’t get much more embarrassing than that,” said Leafs defenceman Cody Franson. “It’s one of those situations right now where it seems like no matter what we try to do it’s just not working. We’re having a tough time getting through it right now.”
One thing that angered Carlyle was that the team didn’t respond at all after having Rynnas unexpectedly thrown in for his first NHL start with just 20 minutes to prepare. He was left to fend for himself.
It’s been a troubling trend over the last seven weeks—arguably among the toughest in franchise history. As the situation has gotten uglier, an explanation for the collapse has become tougher to find.
“I don’t have any answers for you,” said Kessel. “It’s disappointing. We’re not playing well, I mean guys are trying but it’s just not working.
“We’re having a tough time with it.”
Notes: The Leafs signed a beer league goalie to a one-day contract and had him on hand in case Rynnas was injured and Gustavsson couldn’t go in … Toronto fell to 4-8-2 since Carlyle replaced Ron Wilson as coach on March 2 … The Leafs have more wins on the road (17) than at home (16) … Read leads all NHL rookies with 23 goals … Three of Brayden Schenn’s 11 goals on the season have come against the Leafs … Announced attendance was 19,415.