TORONTO – They may have dodged a major bullet on the injury front, but lacked the necessary "desperation" to get past the streaking Flyers.
It was with an uncommon thud that the Leafs season-long, eight-game point streak came to an end on a night that saw Joffrey Lupul exit early with a potentially worrisome injury.
"We didn't play desperate enough," Randy Carlyle said in some frustration following the 5-3 loss to Philadelphia. "We didn't execute to a high enough level, we were like a step behind, our execution was extremely poor."
Back in action for the first time in five days, the Leafs were an unusually punchless group, particularly careless and lackluster in the defensive zone, a pair of giveaways and one glaring back-door mistake, for instance, springing three of the five Philadelphia goals. Scrambling for a playoff spot with only a month to go, the Flyers picked up their fourth straight victory – still seven points back of the Leafs – scoring three times in the middle frame to jump in front with a lead they would not relinquish.
"We weren't as sharp as we needed to be to have success," Carlyle continued. "You score three goals in the NHL, you should win. We gave up too many goals from lack of ability to defend, costly turnovers and we weren't engaged in the hockey game from an emotional standpoint that is required [to win]. We're all left scratching our head why."
More worrisome was the scary collision involving their surging left winger.
Tucked along the boards in the defensive zone near the mid-point of the first frame, Lupul was sandwiched between Adam Hall and former Leaf Jay Rosehill, dealt consecutive shots to the head. The 29-year-old lingered on the ice briefly before tentatively wobbling back to the bench. After a brief consultation with head athletic therapist Andy Playter, Lupul departed for the Toronto dressing room, requiring assistance on the way there.
Fears of the dreaded concussion were apparent. "Any time that somebody comes off the ice like that it's definitely scary just because it's such an unpredictable thing," said John-Michael Liles, who was on the ice at the time of the collision.
Playing in just his seventh game back from injury – he missed 25 games with a fractured right forearm – Lupul was scorching-hot with a six-game goal and point streak that saw him tally eight goals and 13 points.
"He feels fine now," said Carlyle afterward, noting the need for further evaluation. "I would say he's 50/50 on practicing [Friday]."
The Leafs would breathe a huge sigh of relief if the damage were to be so minimal. While they managed fine without him for two months earlier in the year – going 13-11-1 – the loss of Lupul for any extended period down the stretch (and even beyond) would be significant, especially to an inexperienced group charging to the postseason for the first time in nine years.
1. Lupul's injury woes, concussion concerns
Termed an upper-body injury, the Lupul collision brought with it obvious fears of a concussion, of which the 29-year-old has history. Lupul has suffered three concussions previously, most recently in February 2008, when he missed 14 games as a member of these very same Flyers. "It's not an easy thing," said Liles, who suffered a concussion himself last season. "Hopefully it's minor. It's one of those goofy things. When I got hit I played the rest of the game, didn't really feel anything, and then the next morning it was like my world was turned upside down. Hopefully that's not the case."
Lupul has had a year-long string of unfortunate luck. Last March it was a separated shoulder that knocked him out of the final 16 regular season games. Three games into this season it was a point shot from Dion Phaneuf that fractured his right forearm, 25 games on the shelf as a result.
2. Reimer's performance/Deadline Day experience
A day after swirling rumours of the Leafs chase for a veteran netminder came to an end, James Reimer returned to the crease, four goals escaping his grasp on 30 Flyer shots. "I felt like I was hanging in there and making some big saves, but goals kept going in," Reimer said afterward. "Couple unlucky bounces, just kind of a weird game." Arguably the most damning of the four he allowed was the third marker from Brayden Schenn, a shot that squeaked through under his arm. The fourth goal and eventual winner from Rosehill followed a giveaway by Mike Kostka, a Sean Couturier point shot redirected in front, Reimer noticeably frustrated by apparent interference in front. "I think he just fit in with the rest of our team," Carlyle said.
The remaining month and potential playoff run will be critical for Reimer as he attempts to build a case as the Leafs goaltender of now and the future. It was clear in the build-up to Wednesday's trade deadline that management preferred an experienced upgrade, aggressively pursuing Miikka Kiprusoff from Calgary, only to see that fall through. "I wasn't too worried about it," Reimer said of deadline day. "I'm glad I wasn't because if I was I would've wasted a couple good days. The day came and went and here we are." Asked about his activity in the hours leading up to the 3 p.m. deadline, Reimer grinned. "I went to the grocery store, bought some groceries and by the time I came home the deadline was over."
3. JVR dry spell finally ends
A 10-game dry spell finally came to an end for James van Riemsdyk against his former team. The 23-year-old scored the Leafs third and final goal, his first marker since March 9 and only his fourth in the past 19 games. Parked at the edge of the crease, van Riemsdyk deftly roofed the puck above the left shoulder of Ilya Bryzgalov. "It's never fun when you're not scoring when that's basically my job is to provide offence," he said. "But I tried to stay positive and keep the other parts of my game strong like [the] penalty kill, [staying] hard on the walls, and [being] good within the team structure."
Despite the cold streak, van Riemsdyk still sits second on the team with 15 goals.
4. Mark Fraser Deadline Day Experience 2012
Emerging as a valued piece on the Leaf defence, Mark Fraser was actually dealt to Toronto on deadline day a year prior. Swapped from Anaheim for Dale Mitchell, it was actually the second trade he'd been involved in that season. "It was after 3 o'clock so I thought I was safe," he recalled of the February 27 deadline. Then he received a text message from former Leaf Luca Caputi. "He said 'Dude you got traded'. I wasn't sure if he was pulling my leg or if it was serious so I figured if I just said yes then I'd cover both angles. I refreshed the page [at TSN], just watching it online, and sure enough there was my name." But he hadn't heard anything official to that point. Fraser waited and waited for a couple hours before the management team in Anaheim finally called and confirmed the deal. "You start answering a ton of text messages and phone calls," he said of the immediate aftermath. "Everyone is obviously following along and don't seem to realize that you probably need your cell phone battery for the more important calls that are about to come in."
Snatching a job in training camp, Fraser played in his 34th game with the Leafs on Thursday, logging 20-plus minutes. "It's funny how one door closes and another one opens," he said.
5. Fraser-Franson combination
One interesting development in the past month plus has been the increasing responsibility of Fraser and his defence partner Cody Franson. "That's a pair we said we were not going to split up," Carlyle said before Thursday's game, "and we were going to try and see if we could play them some minutes against some of the higher groups." Their average ice-time over the past three months reveals the uptick:
January 13:39 10:25
February 17:01 15:49
March 19:40 17:49
Matched up against the Flyers second unit of Brayden Schenn, Scott Hartnell, and Wayne Simmonds on Thursday, the duo have emerged as Carlyle's second pairing on the back-end, slotted behind Dion Phaneuf and Carl Gunnarsson on most nights. Franson actually led the Leafs in ice-time against the Flyers, logging a season-high 23:49.
Quote of the Night
"It's something that we're going to have to deal with, desperate teams coming down the stretch. They were a desperate team. They played desperate tonight."
-John-Michael Liles on the Flyers' performance as they claw back into the playoff race.
Quote of the Night II
"I was joking, I said they're going to have to replace all the glass on the sides of the boards, he's not afraid of the glass and out."
- Liles on newly acquired Ryan O'Byrne, who landed in Toronto on Thursday afternoon but did not play against the Flyers.
10 games: Goal drought for James van Riemsdyk, which came to an end against the Flyers.
4 games: Home win streak snapped with Thursday's loss.
8 games: Point streak snapped with Thursday's loss.
11 games: Goal drought for Matt Frattin, who failed to land a shot in 13-plus minutes against the Flyers.
1:40: Ice-time for Joffrey Lupul before going down with injury.
10: Total games Lupul has played this season.
12: Total games Lupul has played for Randy Carlyle as a Leaf.
23:49: Cody Franson, the team leader against the Flyers.
The Leafs head to New Jersey for a Saturday clash with the Devils.