Northeast: Maple Leafs continue freefall in Eastern Conference

By John-Eric Iannicello

Photo: Toronto Maple Leafs goaltender James Reimer was able to make this stop, but his efforts weren’t enough to keep the Maple Leafs from dropping a 5-2 decision to the Florida Panthers on Tuesday night (courtesy of

JC Salas/Icon SMI)

What was looking like a strong playoff push in February has turned into a ‘Fail for Nail’ as the season starts to wind down for the Toronto Maple Leafs. The team has dropped 15 of their last 17 games and they are now free-falling in the standings, sitting 12th in the Eastern Conference, three points out of 15th.

The turning point of the season seemingly happened with a back-to-back stint in early February. The Maple Leafs, coming off a 6-3 win against the Edmonton Oilers, headed into Winnipeg for a game against the Jets. At that time, the Maple Leafs were sitting sixth in the East and had a three-point cushion over the eighth place Florida Panthers. The Maple Leafs dropped the contest against the Jets, 2-1, and have been on a steady downward spiral ever since.

The spiral didn’t affect the moves the Maple Leafs made at the NHL trade deadline – they made minor ones. But it did end the tenure of head coach Ron Wilson, who was fired on March 2nd.

While coaching was certainly an area that needed a shakeup, it’s evident that the issues run much deeper than simply a coaching change.

The team has only one win under current coach Randy Carlyle and is 1-5 since he’s taken over. There’s been a noted improvement in the teams’ commitment to defense and, prior to Tuesday’s contest, they have been competitive in every one of their losses, losing only once by two goals.

"Penalty killing has been one of our strong suits in the last little while and it sprung a leak tonight," Carlyle told after Tuesday’s 5-2 loss to the Florida Panthers. "You can’t give up five goals and expect to win in the NHL."

With the team so close to a lottery pick, and a chance at the top pick in the NHL entry-draft, some are asking Maple Leafs general manager Brian Burke if it’s best for his team to bottom out in the final 13 games.

We’re gonna try and win as many games as we can,” Burke told

And the Maple Leafs will try, but even the clubs best efforts down the stretch could land them in lottery territory which perhaps speaks to how much work is still required for this club.

Northeast Division Notes

Boston Bruins Marty Turco got the start for the Bruins vs. Tampa Bay on Tuesday. He was yanked after allowing four goals on 12 shots. Tim Thomas didn’t fare much better allowing two goals on five shots. The Bruins are 4-6-0 in their last 10 and are riding a three-game losing streak. Daniel Paille returned to the ice after missing a few games with an upper-body injury. Benoit Pouliot, Adam McQuaid and Mike Mottau were scratches. Forward Lane MacDermid was reassigned to Providence (AHL).

Buffalo Sabres
Tyler Myers was suspended three games for his hit from behind Monday on Montreal Canadiens forward Scott Gomez. He’ll start to serve his suspension tonight vs. the Colorado Avalanche.

Montreal Canadiens
Forward Max Pacioretty is the Canadiens nominee for the Bill Masterson Memorial Trophy for the 2011-12 season. The award is presented to the NHL player who best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship, and dedication to hockey. The Canadiens will host the Senators tonight.

Ottawa Senators
The Senators will look to make ground in the standings facing the Canadiens tonight in Montreal. The club sits two points behind the struggling Bruins who are second in the Eastern Conference with 83 points.

Toronto Maple Leafs –
James Reimer got his first start since February 28th. He allowed four goals on 26 shots. The Maple Leafs dropped their fifth game in a row, and it’s the teams’ 15th loss in their last 17 games. Tyler Bozak snapped the Maple Leafs’ two-game goalless streak at 19:02 of the second period. Colby Armstrong, and Cody Franson were healthy scratches.