TORONTO – Joffrey Lupul wanted to apologize to the fans that paid good money to see what was dubbed an embarrassment by those in the Toronto dressing room.
"We're getting booed off the ice in the first period, second period and the end of the game," said Lupul. "And we deserved it."
He and the Maple Leafs were hammered 7-1 by the New York Rangers on home ice, their three-game win streak and six-game point streak ending with a loud thud on Saturday evening.
"Sometimes you have losses where you take some positives," Lupul said. "Tonight we did nothing well. There's nothing we can take out of this other than just not wanting to have this feeling in here again."
It was an all too familiar reminder of the inconsistency and unpredictability that has plagued the Leafs all season. All that seemed to be trending in mildly positive directions in the past week and a half was blown up in yet another embarrassing loss for the club at the ACC.
"We felt that we were becoming more competitive in the [required] areas and this one sent an A-bomb [through that]," said a despondent Randy Carlyle afterward.
With plenty more determination and good bursts of speed on the second end of a back-to-back – they were thumped by Pittsburgh on Friday – New York pounded 50 shots at the helpless Toronto pair of Jonathan Bernier and James Reimer, the former pulled for the first time all season.
Carlyle was taken aback by the hapless effort, most disappointed by the lack of pushback at any point in a flat night.
"We didn't check," he said. "They had the freedom to roam about the ice and do what they wanted to do. We didn't engage in the competitiveness side of it of limiting their space, stepping in front of anybody, skating in front of anybody to impede the progress. Obviously we left our goalies hanging high and dry."
Unpredictability has been an unfortunate staple of the Leafs identity at the midway point of the season. They've shown the ability to look so thorough, determined and capable one night only to emerge as something much different the next.
Coming off a triumphant result at Wednesday's Winter Classic and their first three-game win streak since the end of October, Carlyle mused that "we just need a performance to support that now", the uncertainty of what might lay ahead evident in his voice.
"Now it's back to the drawing board," he said.
"We're not proud of that game," Lupul concluded of the defeat. "It's embarrassing. [We] apologize to the people who paid money to see us play like that."
1. Bernier's Roll Ends
Just when it appeared that Jonathan Bernier might be wrangling full control of the Maple Leafs crease did the 25-year-old suffer his worst fate this season – through little fault of his own. Bernier, who was making his fifth consecutive start in goal – the longest stretch for any Leaf goaltender this season and longest of the Quebec native's career – was pulled for the first time all year, yielding five goals on 32 shots.
Only the second marker, a sneaky shot from the right circle by Dominic Moore that snuck five-hole could be pinned on the goaltender.
"Obviously the second goal shouldn't go in the net and he'd be the first guy to tell you that," Carlyle said of Bernier. "But we gave up three breakaways in the second period where our defenceman got beat and they went clearly uncontested to the net."
One such example saw Chris Kreider blow by Cody Franson before beating Bernier with a backhand for the Rangers fourth goal. Another, the fifth for New York, saw Moore burst by Jake Gardiner from deep in the Toronto zone.
Hours before the game, Carlyle, who has been firm in his stance on the two-goalie tandem, conceded to thoughts of declaring Bernier Toronto's no. 1.
"There are times when you look it and say, 'Is this the time?' Well, I'm not ready quite yet to say that he's this or he's that," offered Carlyle on Saturday morning. "I know we're going to need both of our goaltenders to play to the top of their ability and I don't think we're any different than any other team in the league."
Bernier owned a .950 save percentage in his previous six games and had picked up at least a point for his team in five straight. He was replaced by James Reimer, who made his first appearance since Dec. 21 and allowed two goals on 18 shots.
2. Bad Losses
The Leafs have been on the receiving end of a handful of bad losses like the one that took place on Saturday. Among them was a 4-0 defeat to Vancouver on Nov. 1, a 6-0 home loss to Columbus on Nov. 25, a 6-3 putdown in St. Louis on Dec. 12 and a flat 3-1 loss to the Panthers on Dec. 12.
The seven goals against was the most the club has allowed in a single game all season.
"It was just a bad game for us all around," said Dion Phaneuf afterward. "The whole night we seemed to be out of sync."
Toronto has just four regulation victories in the past 29 games with the Rangers, Capitals, Flyers, Senators and Hurricanes trailing close behind their 47 points (good for fifth in the Atlantic division) on the season.
"We weren't good enough in any aspect," said Lupul. "We weren't moving the puck out of our zone. We were getting beat off the rush, one-on-one, and offensively we weren't really creating anything. We can all share the blame equally in this one."
"We got outworked to put it mildly," added Cody Franson.
3. Second Line Silence
The silence of the Leafs second line has been a source of frustration in recent weeks.
"I just think that the group, the sum of the group should equal more than what I'm getting right now," Carlyle said before Wednesday's Winter Classic.
The trio, which includes Nazem Kadri, Joffrey Lupul and Mason Raymond, remained quiet for the meaningful portion of Saturday's action against the Rangers (and was later broken up in the third frame).
Kadri has just four points in the past 14 games, Raymond has only one goal in the past 15, and Lupul, with his 12th this season against New York, hit the scoresheet for just the third time in the past 12 games.
"We're not getting much done offensively right now," Lupul said before the game. "It's frustrating for us. We need to control the puck a little bit better in their zone and create some chances that way. It's been a frustrating stretch for us, but we're certainly going to work on things and get better for sure."
4. Stable on Defence
Acquired from the Hurricanes earlier this week, 30-year-old Tim Gleason did not make his Leafs debut against the Rangers. That was due in part to the recent performance of Paul Ranger, who played in his fifth consecutive game Saturday following a stream of stints in the press box.
"The one thing with Paul Ranger and a lot of our defencemen is that when you don't notice them it's because of the good reasons," said Carlyle, who challenged the 29-year-old Ranger to increase his physicality defensively in recent weeks.
"The good reasons are they're playing safe, they're making good plays, [and] they're [making] strong plays. Where we tend to focus on [them], and we're all guilty of it, is when they make mistakes. And everybody out there does make them. We want to focus on the positives and these guys have started to give us more of what we've asked and we're going to continue to push for more."
The recent uptick for the Whitby native failed to continue against the Rangers. He was among the many struggling Leafs on Saturday, on the ice for four goals against (three at even-strength) in the defeat to New York.
As for Gleason, who played eight seasons in Carolina, Carlyle added that he'd like to give the long-time Hurricane defender an opportunity to get accustomed to a new environment in Toronto.
"I think we'd just like to get him acclimated to our style of play, the way we do things, our systems, everything before we put him in the lineup," said Carlyle. "And he will get a chance. We all know at the NHL level there's a very tough schedule. I think our next stretch of (nine) days we play six games. So we know there's lots of hockey coming and there'll be lots of opportunity for people to get in the lineup."
That opportunity may come sooner than later.
Carl Gunnarsson left Saturday's game in the first period with an undisclosed upper-body injury, seemingly suffered on a hit from Carl Hagelin. David Clarkson meanwhile, blocked a Michael Del Zotto shot with his left foot in the opening frame. He returned briefly for one shift of 21 seconds in the middle period only to shut it down thereafter.
The Leafs offered little in the way of an update on either player following the game.
5. Fleeting Signs of Optimism
Prior to the hapless effort, Carlyle touched on a few aspects of his team's game that had improved amid a season-long six-game point streak.
"I think we're getting back to playing with the puck more," he said. "I think at times we've been guilty of receiving the game and putting too much pressure on our goaltenders. We've talked about it. It's an easy stat to record when you're getting outshot."
Saturday marked the 35th time in 43 games that the Leafs have been outshot this season; now sitting 17-13-5 in those games. It was also the 13th time already that they've allowed at least 40 shots in a game and the fourth time in the past five games.
13 – Number of times this season the Leafs have allowed at least 40 shots.
7 – Goals for the Rangers on Saturday, the most for any Leaf opponent this season.
5 – Consecutive starts for Jonathan Bernier, the longest stretch for either Toronto goaltender this season.
4 – Number of times this season the Leafs have allowed 50 shots.
4 – Victories in regulation for the Leafs in the past 29 games.
Special Teams Capsule
Season: 21.8% (5th)
Season: 77.8% (27th)
Quote of the Night
"It's embarrassing. We're getting booed off the ice in the first period, second period and the end of the game. And we deserved it. We were not good in any aspect. We don't feel very good about ourselves right now."
-Joffrey Lupul, following Saturday's 7-1 defeat.
The Leafs host John Tavares and the Islanders at the ACC on Tuesday night.